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Raising Grandchildren: Family Issues

Find help for grandkids battling emotional challenges

When grandparents or other relatives step in to care for children, there is usually a family crisis or chronic problem. It can be a challenge to juggle raising children while dealing with family challenges.

See also: GrandFamilies Resources.

My grandchildren get upset by their parents coming in and out of their lives. What should I do?

It is up to you to set boundaries to provide stability for your grandchild. Many children want to spend time with their parents, but end up feeling let down if their parents are erratic and unreliable. If life isn't stable, your grandchildren may be confused and feel badly about themselves. Sometimes this can cause behavior problems or mental health issues for your grandchildren.

  • It might be helpful to ask an objective third party to help you work out a schedule for visits with the parents, along with rules and responsibilities. Try to be flexible but have clear limits or boundaries. Work together to do what's best for your grandchildren; their needs are top priority. A trained mediator can help, or a trained faith professional, counselor or family friend.

  •  If you go to court for custody or guardianship, you can ask the court to set up a regular schedule for when and where your grandchildren's parents can spend time with them (visitation). Sometimes the court says parents can only have "supervised" visitation, which means they cannot be alone with the child. 

  •  If you hope that your grandchildren's parents will one day be able to raise your grandchildren again, keep in mind that it's helpful for the children to have an ongoing relationship with their parents — even if it is rocky at times.

My grandchildren's parents are addicted to alcohol and drugs; is there help for our family?

Abuse of or addiction to alcohol or other drugs (substance abuse) is often called a "family disease" because it affects the whole family. Substance abuse can lead to many other problems, including child abuse and neglect, incarceration (being in jail), and even the death of a parent. There are many emotions and conflicts when a family member is addicted. You can't control the parent's behavior, but you can do your best to have limits and give your grandchildren security.

  •  You might want to join a support group for people who have family members or friends who are substance abusers, such as Al-Anon Family Groups. The confidential meetings  help you learn how to cope and be healthy yourself.
  • Al-Anon also has groups for children whose parents are substance abusers called "Alateen", and "Alatot" for children.
  • You might also want to get personal counseling from a therapist who can help you and your grandchildren learn how to cope with substance abuse in the family.

My grandchildren's parents are in jail — should I help my grandkids stay in touch?

When a family member is in jail or prison, it is a loss for everyone. It might be good for the children to have some contact with their parents, but it's not a good idea to force them to visit, call or write. If all contact with the parent is cut off, the child may have more feelings of grief and loss. Some prisons have social services, chaplains or visitor services that can help you plan visits and learn about the best ways to have contact with the prisoner. There are some special programs to help parents in jail stay in contact with their children. You will want to have a regular schedule so the child knows what to expect if they do visit.

How can I help my grandchildren when their parent has died?

It may be difficult to console your grandchild after such a huge loss — and you are grieving too. Allow everyone in the family to feel sad and take time to grieve in their own way. Some children may withdraw and be quiet. Others may act out and have bad behaviors. The most important thing you can do is to be stable and give your grandchild a sense of security and love. These steps may be helpful:

  • Be sure to tell your grandchildren's teachers what has happened
  • Ask a mental health worker or the school social worker or counselor about private counseling for your family
  • Find out if there are grief support groups for adults and/or children in your area.

How can I keep the peace with other members in my family?

When you step in to raise someone else's children, it's bound to change many relationships in your family. Marriages often suffer. Other grandchildren don't understand why you buy things for the children you are raising or spend more time with them. It's very important that you keep communication open among all family members.

  • Talk, share concerns and explain what is happening and why with your relatives.
  • Set aside special time to enjoy your other grandchildren, whom you are not raising.
  • Try to keep up with your normal family routines, rituals, celebrations and holidays.

How can I prevent my grandchildren from "following in their parents' footsteps"?

Remember that everyone is a unique person. Just because your adult child has problems, doesn't mean that you did too, or that your grandchildren will.

  • Make sure your grandchildren have honest and open communication, security, stability and a loving home
  • Talk with your grandchildren about what has caused problems for their parents
  • Get them involved in drug/alcohol prevention activities
  • Teach them how to manage money
  • Teach them to have short-term and long-term goals
  • Let them know that people we love sometimes do things we don't like, often because they are sick, not because they are bad people
  • Focus on the positive. Support and encourage your grandchildren and give them hope