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Grandparents raising grandkids

Air Date: 06/02/10 Cheryl can be reached at 775-331-6723 or at Cheryl.erwin@sbcglobal.net.I was in California a couple of weeks ago, speaking at a conference. The folks attending were from many different cultures and income levels but they had one thing in common: they had suddenly found themselves raising their grandchildren, and they had come to this conference to learn how to do that effectively. In case you're curious or have never encountered this situation before, there are a number of reasons why people who might have expected to be tooling down the highway in an RV enjoying retirement suddenly find themselves changing diapers and helping with homework. Sometimes a child's parents have major problems in life: they have trouble with the law and wind up in jail. Or they develop addiction problems or mental health issues that make them unable to manage the day-to-day challenges of parenting. A parent may be in the military and may be on active duty out of the country. And more and more often these days, parents lose jobs or run into serious financial problems, and while they're still present and still nominally in charge, grandma and grandpa are now providing room and board and a great deal of child care. Whatever the reason, mature adults who thought they'd put their parenting years behind them are asked to plunge back into the fray of childrearing. What always astonishes me is how willingly grandparents welcome their grandchildren. Almost without exception, these folks tell me, "My grandkids are family and I can't imagine letting someone else raise them." There is more than enough love to go around, and often far more patience than a child's stressed-out parents had to offer. But no matter how much you may love and welcome your grandkids, there are still undeniable challenges. The reality is that many grandparents are retired and living on a fixed income, and in case you haven't noticed, raising kids these days is expensive. The presence of energetic, active children or teenagers can be physically stressful, since grandparents are more likely than parents to have health challenges or limitations. Parenting rules and discipline approaches may have changed, and the culture certainly has: the grandparents I've worked with have huge questions about the Internet, computers, texting, video games, and all the other technological aspects of twenty-first-century life that kids take for granted. Many are not computer literate and have no idea what the grandkids might be up to with those laptops and smartphones. The arrival of grandchildren can put a strain on a marriage and require flexibility and change that become harder as we get older. And most of the grandparents I've spoken to feel a nagging, uncomfortable sense of worry: if things didn't go so well with their own children, how will they know they're not making the same mistakes with their grandchildren? And perhaps most challenging of all is that grandparents sometimes feel a bit too much love and sympathy for the kids: they sometimes are better at pampering and spoiling than they are at discipline and limits and kids truly need kind, firm, consistent discipline.Grandparents often grew up themselves and raised their own families in a culture that did not encourage asking for help outside the family. But raising kids the second or even third time around can be stressful and it's usually extremely helpful to have somewhere to go to get ideas, respite care, support, and encouragement. Children, too, can have questions about this different sort of family and may benefit from having ways to express their feelings and solve problems.If you find yourself chasing after children or teens--again, you might consider looking for help. Family services change often in these days of limited budgets, but there are sometimes support groups and parenting classes for grandparents raising grandchildren. Parenting classes, by the way, are a great thing not because you don't know how to be a parent, but because it can be incredibly helpful to hear other ideas and other people's experiences as you approach discipline, limits, and parenting challenges in these complicated times. If you're curious, you can ask at your grandchild's school, call the Department of Social Services or the Children's Cabinet, or call a family therapist for ideas. Remember that connection with your grandchild always comes before correction. And remember, too, to take excellent care of yourself: you deserve to be as happy, healthy, and confident as you can be. For KUNR, this is Cheryl Erwin.