Taking Care of Kids – the Second Time Around
If you're helping out your grown children by caring for their kids, you're not alone. Find out how this return to child care can affect senior health in positive ways.
By Chris Iliades, MD
Medically Reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH
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Since the start of the current economic downturn in 2007, the number of grandparents who have had to step in as either primary or part-time caregivers to their grandchildren has gone up sharply. According to a Pew Research Center report, 1 in 10 children now lives in a household that includes one or more grandparents, and about 40 percent of those kids are being raised primarily by their grandparents — without the parents.
Some of the most common reasons why grandparents become caregivers or choose to adopt a grandchild are the death, illness, military deployment, or incarceration of a parent; teenage pregnancy; and substance abuse by a parent. However, consequences of the current economic hard times, such as poverty, unemployment, and homelessness, may account for the recent increase in grandparents who provide child care for their grandchildren. There has also been a recent trend toward placing children from troubled homes with willing grandparents rather than in foster care.
Child Rearing and Senior Health
If you are a grandparent raising your grandchildren and possibly considering adoption, you may feel both blessed and stressed. Caregiving at an older age — the average age of a grandparent providing child care is 57 — can have negative effects on senior health. It can strain your resources financially, mentally, and physically, and put your retirement plans on hold. You may experience emotional stress from having to worry about your grandchild's health, education, and insurance needs . And all this added stress can worsen any health issues you might have yourself.
On the other hand, being your grandchild's caregiver could boost your emotional health and be the most rewarding part of your senior years. Some of the benefits mentioned by grandparent caregivers include:
- Renewed energy and zest for life
- Laughter and joy
- A deeper bond with grandchildren
- A stronger sense of purpose and meaning
Caregiving Coping Strategies
Being the primary child care provider can be tough at any age, but grandparents in particular will benefit from having a support system in place to prevent physical or emotional burnout.
Consider these suggestions to make the most of your relationship with your grandchildren:
- Take good care of yourself physically by getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, and eating well. Don't neglect your own preventive health care appointments.
- Expect to have emotional ups and downs. Recognize and talk to a trusted friend, loved one, or mental health professional about your feelings. It's important to get them out in the open and deal with them honestly.
- Child care can be all-consuming, so remember to build in personal time for friends, quiet time, and hobbies.
- Consider joining a grandparents' support group. If you don't have one locally, you may find one online.
- Get any needed legal assistance. If you are taking responsibility for your grandchild's legal, physical, financial, and educational affairs, you may need to become recognized legally as their caregiver through adoption, guardianship, or as a foster parent. It's important to find out about your state's laws on custody issues. Help for a caregiving grandparent is often available from social services, legal services, and government agencies.
Here are some great resources for more information:
As a grandparent, you bring a unique perspective to child care — your wisdom, your maturity, and your stability. You can be your grandchild's greatest gift and blessing.
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