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Publication #FCS2190

Grandparents Raising Grandchildren: Understanding Relationships1

Larry Forthun, Millie Ferrer-Chancy, Angela Falcone, and Joe Pergola2

Goal - To help grandparents understand changes in relationships that may result from the decision to raise grandchildren.

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Sometimes life events do not happen the way we plan. You probably never expected that one day you would be raising your grandchild. As you take on this new role, there will be many changes in the relationships you have with family and friends. Let's look at how your relationships may change as you start raising your grandchild.

Relationship with Family

Partner

Before taking on this new responsibility, you probably spent a lot more time with your partner. Clearly, it will be hard to continue to build this relationship while spending less time together. Yet, if both of you are committed to raising your grandchild, your positive influence will strengthen your family unit. Talk to each other about your new role, and plan in advance how you will structure your time. Make sure you include spending time together without the grandchildren. As with any new parents, you will be challenged to find time to spend together. Make spending time together a priority.

Adult Child

As a result of parenting your grandchild, you may experience changes in your relationship with your adult child—your grandchild's parent. Whether your new role was planned or has resulted from a crisis, a change in your relationship is bound to happen. By assuming responsibility for your grandchild, you and your adult child are essentially becoming co-parents. Some adult children may accept this responsibility, while others may not. Some may be invested in making lifestyle changes, while others may respond with anger or resentment.

If you are having difficulties in your relationship with your adult child, maintain open lines of communication. Avoid jumping to conclusions, using unkind words, or blaming (See FY437/FCS2191 Building Strong Families at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/fy437). Instead, be a good listener and try to see things from your child's point of view. Agree to disagree if you are unable to resolve conflict right away, but return to the conversation to seek common ground. Although your primary responsibility is for the health and well-being of your grandchildren, be sure to separate your feelings about your adult child from your grandchildren's feelings about their parent.

Likewise, encourage visits between your grandchildren and their parents. But first, be sure the visits are consistent with any legal decisions about visitation. Then make visits part of your grandchildren's routine. Plan visits in advance and be clear about your expectations for the visit. Frequent unplanned visits can often disrupt your grandchildren's routine, leading to behavioral or emotional problems. Set limits that you are comfortable with and enforce them. Don't be afraid to say no!

Finally, learn to let go. There are a variety of reasons why grandparents may find themselves raising their grandchildren. If you are raising your grandchildren because your adult child is not a fit parent, let go of any frustrations you may feel. Also, let go of any guilt you may feel about your own parenting. You may sometimes ask yourself what you did wrong as a parent that led to your adult child's behavior. Remember, your child is an adult and can make her or his own choices as well as experience the consequences of those choices. Your child’s actions and choices are his or her responsibility, so it is not your sole responsibility to fix things.

Grandchild

Although you may be uncertain of how to parent your grandchildren, your grandchildren may not be sure of what to expect from you. They may be leaving their home to live with you and will not only be separated from their parents, but also their friends, schoolmates, and others in their community. This can be difficult for your grandchildren who may react negatively to the move. Likewise, they may be leaving a difficult home environment that may have persisted for many months or years.

To ease the transition, you and your partner should talk to your grandchildren about these feelings. By talking with your grandchildren, you may discover that you share many of the same feelings—for example, fear, sadness, or anxiety. You may also discover that you share many of the same expectations for what life will be like in your home. Discussing these expectations in advance can help to relieve some of the anxiety of moving into a new home and to give everyone an opportunity to arrive at a common understanding of the household’s rules, limits, and expectations.

Likewise, make life a daily routine in your household. A consistent routine for meals, naps, bathing, and bedtime will help your grandchildren adjust more easily to their new home. Help your grandchildren maintain their relationships with friends and provide opportunities for them to be engaged in activities that allow them to make new ones. Creating a sense of normalcy for the grandchildren in your home will help to make a difficult transition easier.

Relationships With Friends

With your new role as a parent, you may not have as much time to spend with your friends. Perhaps as a result of your new role, you discover that you no longer share the same interests. Talk with your friends about your new responsibilities and let them know you will continue to value their friendship even if you may not be able to see them as often.

On the other hand, you may find that you'll meet new friends who share the same challenges. You may meet these new friends through your grandchildren's school, at a grandparent support group, or at church. Finding and keeping friends who support and comfort you during these times is extremely important.

Conclusion

Becoming a parent for the second time can bring many changes to your relationships with family and friends. Many of these changes can be positive, while some changes may be challenging. Remember, life's challenges provide us with an opportunity for growth and can bring out the best in all of us.

Resources

For a list of support groups in your area, visit the Florida Kinship Center at http://kinshipcenter.cbcs.usf.edu/default/index.cfm/florida-support.

References

Bales, D. (2009). Helping grandchildren stay in contact with parents. Athens: University of Georgia Cooperative Extension. Retrieved from https://www.fcs.uga.edu/ext/pubs/chfd/CHFD-E-59-02.pdf

Callander, J. (1999). Second time around: Help for grandparents who raise their children's kids. Wilsonville, OR: BookPartners.

Hayslip, B., & Kaminski, P. L. (2005). Grandparents raising their grandchildren. Marriage and Family Review 37, 147–169.

Poehlmann, J., Brintnall-Peterson, M., Shlafer, R., & Morgan, K. (2003). Grandparents raising grandchildren: Children's contact with their parents. Madison: University of Wisconsin Extension. Retrieved from http://learningstore.uwex.edu/assets/pdfs/B3786-7.pdf

Footnotes

1.

This document is FCS2190, one of a series of the Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, UF/IFAS Extension. First published: December 2002. Latest revision: July 2013. Please visit the EDIS website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.

2.

Larry Forthun, Ph.D., associate professor, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences; Millie Ferrer-Chancy, Ph.D., professor emeritus; Angela Falcone and Joe Pergola, former FYCS graduate students; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.


The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.