November: National Family Caregiver Month

By Emily Koeppel, B.A. and Lindsay Hornell, BSW, B.A.,
Graduate Research Assistants in Human Development & Family Studies,
Colorado State University

&

Christine A. Fruhauf, Ph.D.,
Associate Professor & Director, Undergraduate Programs,
Human Development & Family Studies
Coordinator, Gerontology Interdisciplinary Minor
Colorado State University

November is National Family Caregiver month. Not only is November a time to recognize and support individuals who provide care to older adults, it is also a time to support grandparents raising grandchildren. It is important for you, as a caregiver to your grandchildren, to be recognized for all the hard work you do every day. It is also important to recognize that by taking on the caregiver role for your grandchildren, at some point you may experience role confusion. For example, you might have dreamed about being a fun-loving active grandparent who spoils grandchildren. Yet, this may not be reality as you are faced with parenting again.

Experiencing role confusion is often experienced by grandparents caring for grandchildren. As you take on the role of parenting grandchildren, it is common to also experience many challenges associated with this caregiving role. First, you may experience less enjoyment of being a grandparent having taken on a parenting role. This might be more prominent as you take on more responsibilities which may take from the pleasure of watching your grandchildren grow and develop. Second, you may experience social isolation. Not all grandparents have the same experience raising their grandchildren, which could make you feel alone as you take on this new role. Or, you may find many of your friends do not want to spend time with you because you are parenting again. Finally, you may experience behavioral problems with your grandchildren, perhaps stemming from issues with the transition to your home (Reynolds, Wright, & Beale, 2003). With the transition to a different caregiver, children might experience feelings of abandonment from their parents, they might resist attaching to a different caregiver, and they might have problems getting into a different routine. During this time of transition, children may display behavior problems such as aggression, verbal bullying, anxiety and withdrawal.

Although these challenges may negatively impact your experience as a caregiver to your grandchildren, there are ways to lessen the effects the challenges have on you. For example:

  • Depending on the age of your grandchildren, it will help if you have open communication about the changes in your family with your grandchildren. Including grandchildren in this process will help them understand the changes and adjust to the different roles that are now part of your family.
  • Find and participate in a local support group for grandparents parenting grandchildren. Sharing and listening to grandparents in a similar situation will help ease some of the social isolation you may be experiencing.
  • If grandchildren are having problems with the transition to your home, reach out to resources in your community. For example, school counselors or marriage and family therapists can help manage individual and family problems.
  • It is also important to take time for yourself. The added responsibilities of your new parenting role could take a toll on you and your health. Be sure to give yourself time to rest and relax. Good self-care practices are important to being a successful and emotionally available caregiver.

Taking on the role as a caregiver to grandchildren can have positive outcomes for both you and your grandchildren. This new role can help you stay active and feel greater purpose in your life. It is important that you seek support, stay positive and take time for yourself. National Family Caregiver Month is great time for you to celebrate your hard work and be proud of your role as a family caregiver. For more information on National Family Caregivers Month, visit the National Family Caregivers Association website: http://caregiveraction.org/

References:

Reynolds, G. P., Wright, J.V., & Beale B. (2003). The roles of grandparents in educating today's children. Journal of Instructional Psychology, 30(4), 316-325.