Grandparents are having to take on the day to day parenting role of their grandchildren for many reasons with almost 10,000 doing so in New Zealand alone. Unfortunately, these children often come with trauma and grief and as a result their behaviours are often incredibly challenging. The journey to safety and wellness can be long with many ups and downs (sometimes mountains) requiring commitment as the children need love, routine, and stability as well as someone to be in their corner no matter what.
The transition from doting joyful grandparent where your time is spent being the tickle monster, knitting, baking and trying to find the latest toys that their parents will approve of or not to day to day caregiver is difficult. Your reality comes crashing down when there is a knock at the door, a phone call or a cry for help and suddenly you are in the middle of a shit storm juggling emotions, lawyers, day care, schools, paediatricians, counsellors and shopping for beds, clothes and nappies not to mention work commitments and plans of your retirement. Life as you know it just went up in smoke.
There is one consolation, you are suddenly so busy trying to manage the crisis and focus on your poor innocent grandchild that you ‘keep calm (or not) and carry on’. In our case days soon became weeks, then months and years. Our mission, since we rescued him into our care six and a half years ago, has been to put his needs first to ensure that he has the best opportunity of a successful happy life, but it is not easy.
If you do find yourself in this situation it is essential that you get advice and seek support from others as soon as possible. In New Zealand we have access to an amazing charitable trust designed to support grandparents and whanau carers, Grandparents Raising Grandchildren. They are an amazing lifeline who advocate on our behalf, provide resources and advice as well as a network of volunteers throughout the country that hold regular get togethers for their members. It’s free to join and there is strength in meeting with others who understand the frustrations, heartbreak and delights that you will go through.
I was grateful to recently attend a SALT (simply acquired training techniques) workshop held by GRG designed to provide skills around how to manage situations. By understanding the emotions behind the behaviour we can look to avoid escalations. Dealing with traumatised children is a minefield for example painful memories can be triggered from smells or sounds and the subsequent behaviour can occur without our knowledge of where or how. Having strategies and explanations certainly helps for the toolkit going forward.
The workshop also acknowledged that ‘Grief’ is a real emotion for both us and the grandchildren in our care. Grief for grandparents is more than a loss of who or what we were planning for retirement there is a whole bundle of it relating to lost/altered relationships with the grandchild, parent of the child, our other children and grandchildren, friendships and lifestyle in general. For my hubby and I, we both feel the loss of our special time together, trying to ‘get it on’ regularly is an obvious challenge but just as difficult is going out as a couple, sharing child minding duties or babysitters with other couples worked when we were young but its not quite the same these days.
For us, things are mostly stable and our grandson is happy, safe and doing well, we even manage to get through some mornings without having to repeat the same ‘one’ thing a million times to keep him on track to get out the door to school. We continue to attempt better techniques and thanks to SALT recognise behaviour signals as to whether he is Sad or Mad and try to manage appropriately. In times of crisis I have learnt not to ‘hug and engage’ which is my instinct, instead I now check first by asking if he is ok with me giving him a hug?
Together we make up ‘Team P’ and we work together to find our way in the world and we all know ‘This is who we are’ a family.
Grandparents do make a difference to the lives of our grandchildren by providing love, routine and stability, enabling them to achieve a happier life and what a gift for us having helped in this process. Yes it is, hard but the gift is priceless.
‘All you can do is do your best’.