Grandparents Raising Grandchildren.

When your children become adults and find partners, thoughts soon move to spending time with ‘grandies’, watching on as they grow and develop into little people that you can shower with love and time and then give them back to their grateful parents. In addition to those special ‘grandies’ you can imagine your later years as fun times exploring the world or enjoying your favourite pastimes, working less and enjoying family. Relaxation Personified.

For many this reality is true however for others, due to unforeseen circumstances, they become responsible for the full time care of their grandchildren/great grandchildren.

Grandparents are stepping up to become parents on a regular basis, with the last census indicating that nearly 10,000 are doing so in New Zealand. The necessity for this is becoming more and more the norm due to our changing society and the deterioration of our children’s capacity to care for their children. This realisation brings with it it’s own grief, whether it be health, drugs or lack of life skills that were responsible for the situation, the dreams you once had for your child to live their ‘best life’ are shattered. You have to take the difficult step and put their needs behind those of their child’s health and safety. The job of protecting your grandchild from your child is probably the hardest thing to reconcile and manage as a family. The hope that in time they have the strength to regain their live remains constant but relationships are often strained.

Caring for grandchildren brings a lot of joy, love and laughter into your life but the journey can also be tainted with trauma and stress. The most significant internal challenge can be the period of grief when the loss of independence is realised; gone are the retirement and lifestyle choices.

Parenting the second time around is difficult, not because you can’t remember how to parent because of course you can but often due to the special support requirements that these rescued children require. It takes patience, energy, knowledge, a very long time and exceptional amounts of love. Unfortunately the resource that is most required by grandparents, especially in times of crisis, is respite care which is mostly non-existent.

The charitable trust GRG is an amazing organisation whose website includes a large number of resources designed for guiding grandparents from crisis to normality and supporting and advocating for them.

GRG’s vision is for a community where grandparents raising grandchildren are empowered to provide a safe, secure and nurturing home for their grandchildren.

What is happening that our babies need protecting?

Not all babies are equal, unfortunately not all of them experience a supportive environment within their first 1000 days (pregnancy to their second birthday). The reasons for this are many and vary in severity and include alcohol, drugs, mental illness, inexperience, lack of family support. Some children survive without harm whilst others experience behavioural physical and cognitive concerns in varying degrees.

Attachment behaviour is an example of such harm, this occurs to some children as a result of inconsistent care. A healthy attachment is formed when a baby has a need (for example cries because they are hungry) and the parent/caregiver responds to that need with the appropriate response (for example feeds the baby) the baby is soothed and gains trust. An unhealthy attachment occurs when the responses are inconsistent (for example doesn’t respond or responds with anger and resentment) and the child learns that the world is frustrating and unsafe and as a consequence they learn to mistrust.

A child with attachment behaviour has a negative self belief and can exhibit behaviours of deviance in an attempt to keep control. The constant struggle for control is stressful and can manifest in behaviours which include anxiety, hyperactivity, hypervigilance, aggression, tantrums and avoidance to touch as they see this as a threat.

The journey towards feeling safe and secure for these children can be a very long one, they need love, understanding, routine, consistency, boundaries and special care.

Positive reinforcement is key and the tree of hope is one of the many tools that can be used to help the children start to believe in themselves favourably. Similar to a star chart used to reward good choices or behaviour the tree represents little successes and hope with the accumulation of leaves. These children struggle with so much and need a lot more reinforcement.

What does success look like?

With love, a lot of effort and a community of support these children can find security and love and begin to feel better about themselves.

Small steps become big results:

  • Recoiling from touch to allowing hugs
  • Tantrums and severe meltdowns to mild defiance and reasoning
  • Hitting out and destroying things to empathy and kindness
  • Screaming and shouting to singing and dancing
  • Anxiety to trust
  • Self-loathing to acceptance

The journey is just that, a journey with peaks and dips but love finds a way.

The best part is that you have a child that is loved and will love you to infinity and beyond and who keeps you fit and feeling young, that is when you are not exhausted.

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