A 2016 report by the Associated Press stated that 2.7 million grandparents are raising grandchildren, and about one-fifth of those have incomes that fall below the poverty line, according to census figures. Their ranks are increasing. At the time the article was written, the number of grandparents raising grandchildren was up seven percent from 2009, and the trend is holding.
Grandparents generally don’t imagine themselves parenting an additional generation of children. Quite often, grandparents find themselves in that situation because the parents – their own children – struggle with addiction, mental illness, and incarceration among other issues. Regardless of how grandparents find themselves parenting again, the same challenges of raising kids they once faced still exist, and new challenges have been layered on top.
One of those challenges can be raising a child experiencing mental illness, and a grandparent-as-parent may face unique barriers in caring for his or her grandchild. We offer the tips below to help grandparents navigate the new, sometimes-frightening, often-confusing waters they may find themselves in.
- Seek out every resource for support, information and guidance you can. Elder Options of Texas provides a lengthy list of organizations (and links to their websites) that offer help specifically to grandparents raising grandchildren.
- Try to foster good, strong relationships with your grandchildren. Studies suggest that for grandparents and other grandchildren, good relationships can prevent the likelihood of experiencing depression.
- Unless the child's parent(s) sign a power of attorney giving you the power to say where the child lives and to make decisions for the child, you must go to court to get custody over a grandchild.
- AARP has compiled resource listings called “Grand Facts” specific to each state. Access the Texas sheet here.
Make Mental Health a Priority
Perhaps first and foremost, we also strongly encourage grandparents to learn how to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental illness in children. It is not unusual for the children of addicts or those who have experience trauma to suffer from a mental illness. Some of the behaviors to be on the lookout for include:
- Feeling very sad or withdrawn for more than two weeks, crying regularly, and feeling tired and unmotivated.
- Sudden overwhelming fear for no reason, sometimes with a racing heart, physical discomfort, or fast breathing
- Severe mood swingsthat cause problems in relationships
- Drastic changes in behavior, personality or sleeping habits (e.g., waking up early and acting agitated)
- Intense worries or fears that get in the way of daily activities like hanging out with friends or going to classes
- Extreme difficulty in concentrating or staying still
- Not eating or doing things to cause themselves to throw up; significant gain or loss in weight
- Out-of-control, risk-takingbehaviors that can cause harm to themselves or others
- Repeated use of drugs or alcohol
- Trying to harmor kill oneself or making plans to do so
Finally, be easy on yourself as you undertake another generation of parenting. You will make mistakes as we all do, but you are the best demonstration of love and commitment to your grandchildren.
For hope and healing,
As the director of communications for Clarity Child Guidance Center, Mike shares the insights of children’s mental health experts, both inside and outside of Clarity CGC, who work with families looking for answers about their children’s mental health.
If you are experiencing an emergency, please call 9-1-1. If you need help locating mental health resources in your area, visit the Bexar County Community Resource website, call your local health department or the National Alliance Mental Illness's helpline at 800-950- NAMI (6264).