What are the challenges?
Raising a grandchild impacts every aspect of a grandparent’s life. As a result, grandparents raising grandchildren face many challenges:
Legal. Grandparents often experience legal difficulties related to obtaining custody or guardianship, enrolling their grandchildren in school, and accessing medical care for their grandchildren. They may also have concerns related to custody disputes with other grandparents or with their grandchildren’s parents.
Financial. Due to limited financial resources, grandparents raising grandchildren often have trouble supporting themselves and providing adequate housing, food, and clothing for their grandchildren. If they are not employed, grandparents may have limited or no sources of income.
Parenting. Parenting can be challenging, especially when grandchildren have emotional, behavioral, of physical difficulties. To be effective parents, grandparents need current information about effective discipline strategies, child development, and childhood problems. Research suggests that an authoritative parenting style is the most effective.
Physical and Mental Health. Grandparents may have limited energy and physical health problems that make raising their grandchildren more challenging. Some grandparents also neglect their health due to a lack of financial resources or because of the demands associated with caring for their grandchildren. Other grandparents experience significant anxiety and depression.
Social. Grandparents raising grandchildren often have less time for themselves and less time to spend with their partners and friends. This loss of social connections can be stressful and can contribute to depression and feelings of anger, loss, and grief.
Family Relationships. Family relationships can be a source of stress. Grandparents may experience ambivalence about their grandchild’s parents – they may feel compelled to protect their grandchildren from the parents’ issues, while also feeling concerned about the parents’ well-being. Grandparents may also find it difficult to set limits with their grandchildren’s parents. Other adult children and grandchildren sometimes dislike the amount of attention being given to one part of the family, or may be concerned about the impact of raising grandchildren on the grandparent’s physical and mental health. Some grandparents even find it difficult to relate to their grandchildren, because of the generation gap.
Grandparents often need a variety of support services to manage the demands of raising their grandchildren. However, grandparents may be unaware of the range of services available to their family. Some grandparents also have difficulty accessing available services due to a number of other barriers (e.g., health problems, lack of transportation). Finally, grandparents can experience problems with service providers who are judgmental or treat them disrespectfully.
Due to their experiences with their parents, children being raised by grandparents may display a variety of developmental, physical, behavioral, academic, and emotional difficulties. Some of these difficulties include depression, anxiety, ADHD, physical health problems, learning disabilities, poor school performance, developmental delays, and aggression. Grandchildren may also experience feelings of anger, rejection, and guilt. The degree to which grandchildren experience these types of challenges varies widely, and some grandchildren may experience multiple, overlapping difficulties.
Relationships among family members can also be a source of stress for grandchildren:
- Visits from parents can be upsetting, particularly when parents are unpredictable or unstable. Additionally, grandchildren may want to spend more time with their parents, but often have difficulty understanding why their parents are not able to be more active in their lives.
- Due to the age difference between grandparents and their grandchildren, it is not uncommon for grandchildren to feel disconnected from their grandparents when it comes to issues like fashion, technology, leisure time, and social relationships. Expectations related to household rules and chores can also be sources of tension and conflict.
Frequently, limited attention is given to the parents in families in which grandparents are raising their grandchildren. However, these parents deal with their own unique challenges. Parents may experience frustration about not being able to see their children, particularly when visits must be supervised or are otherwise limited. They may also have difficulty communicating with the grandparent, and feel confused about their role in the family. Parents are often in need of support services related to their difficulties (e.g., substance abuse treatment, mental health treatment, etc.), but may struggle to access these services and, therefore, may find it difficult to address their issues and challenges.