Parenting as Grandparents

When I started this blog, I envisioned it as an informational, and sometimes entertaining, resource for young parents. What I didn’t think about was grandparents filling the job of parents.

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Grandparents serving as parents “is one of the fastest growing demographics in the world,” says Judy Kreag, a Licensed Parent Educator in Duluth, Minn. Kreag developed a course known as parenting again.

The current opioid crisis has sparked the rise in grandparents taking responsibility for grandchildren, though there are other situations, as well. In particula, Kreag has found that families touched by drug abuse have some special needs.

Often, the adult children have had their children taken away from them and the grandparents find themselves spending their money put aside for retirement on legal fees to get custody of their grandchildren.

“Courts are set up to try to get children back with their parents. They are not set up to give the children to the grandparents,” said Kreag. She knows of one couple who spend $30,000 to get legal custody of their grandchildren.

In addition, “the children are confused.” She spends a good part of the course

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discussing ways to talk to the grandchildren about why they’re not living with their parents.

Grandparents with adult children struggling with drug or alcohol abuse often feel guilt that their children have turned to drugs. “There’s a lot of shame involved and people don’t always want to air their problems,” says Kreag, who only has 3-5 couples sign up for the course each session, despite offering free dinner and childcare during the classtime.

Kreag says she recommends to her students they go to Nar Anon or Al Anon meetings where the literature discusses that you are not responsible for your adult children’s behavior.

Grandparents who are parenting also sometimes struggle to help with their grandchildren’s schoolwork, especially assignments that involve technology.

And, of course, an issue familiar to parents of every age, exhaustion. It can be very draining to parent at any age, but particularly at retirement age. Kreag says she stresses self-care.

To families who are looking for similar programs in their area, Kreag suggests checking with the public school district, county education programs, and religious organizations, such as churches and synagogues.

“Does everyone do this?”

Recently I read a very moving article in the New York Times  called “Maternal Instinct or OCD?”

Written by Kelly Kautz, it’s a piece that resonates in every  new parent’s mind — is my anxiety about parenthood “normal” or is this something more? Everyone checks to make sure their sleeping baby is still breathing, right? But do they check continuously throughout  the night, forgoing sleep themselves?

Eunice Pinney (American, 1770 – 1849 ), Mother and Child, c. 1815, pen and black ink and watercolor on wove paper, Gift of Edgar William and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch 1953.5.112

Everyone worries about the temperature of the bedroom, the level of air conditioning in the car, the sun glare on the baby, right? But how often? And does this anxiety make it impossible to enjoy being a parent?

Ms. Kautz vividly describes how becoming a new mother triggered a resurgence of the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder she had suffered as a teenager, which she thought she had firmly under control after working with a therapist on cognitive behavior therapy. She writes how she was operating in a fog of anxiety, checking on the baby obsessively, so concerned about her baby she wasn’t enjoying her baby.

But what resonated most with me was the comments section. Reader after reader described their struggles, wondering if others were similarly suffering. Then there were the readers who counseled the writer to relax, just stop worrying, enjoy your baby. (If only it were that easy!) Or those who asked what is wrong with erring on the side of safety when it comes to taking care of an infant.

What is clear throughout the comments is everybody is empathetic, but most are also unsure of when the line is crossed into the region of a mental disorder. Is it OCD, or maternal instincts? Post-partum depression or fleeting “baby blues”?

The truth is, advice from family, friends and neighbors, while always well-meaning, can sometimes send you astray. If your feelings or anxiety is troubling you, I urge you to seek professional advice.

If you  are already working with a mental  health professional, you should alert them to your pregnancy and continue to stay in touch throughout the pregnancy and post-birth. This is particularly important if you are taking medication. While pregnant or nursing,  every health professional you work with should be aware of every medication you are taking.  That includes vitamins, OTC medications, and herbal medications, as well as prescription meds.

(As I wrote in a previous post, many medications are deemed safe to  take while pregnant or breastfeeding, but it’s important to check them all with your obstetrician or midwife and pediatrician.)

If you are not yet working with someone, you can start with your obstetrician or midwife and ask for recommendations.  You can also work with your insurance company to find a mental health professional covered by your benefits.

In addition, national organizations usually have a resource list for you to find local  professionals.

For OCD, the International OCD Foundation has a very helpful resources page with tips for looking for therapists, programs, support groups and information.

Another useful resource is the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. 

It’s also relevant to note that anxiety on the part of new parents is by no means limited to mothers and partners should be alert to their own wellbeing, as well.

The most important thing to remember is there is no reason to be embarrassed or secretive about mental health issues. You wouldn’t want  to hide hypertension and just hope it  will get better, and neither should you try to ignore mental health concerns. Work as a team with your health providers and your partner to do the best for your family.