Grandparents Raising Grandchildren

By Lavinia Ball-Marian, MA, LPC

In my work with children and their families, I notice that there are more and more grandparents raising their grandchildren. This has become a trend due to very unfortunate circumstances: parents in prison or with mental health problems that render them unable to care for a child, child abuse, substance abuse, financial difficulties, death.

When you have to embark in this journey of raising grandchildren, many emotions and feelings come to the surface. Some emotions are good and raising a grandchild might be a joy for you; but some emotions might be bad and bring you sadness, doubt, and resentment.

How Do Grandparents Who Are Parenting Feel?

Here are some common emotions and feelings that may arise when raising a grandchild:

  • Photo by John Boyer,

    Photo by John Boyer,

    Worry that you will not be able to provide your grandchild with all that he needs to grow up healthy and secure.

  • Anger that you have to raise your grandchild. When your friends are enjoying retirement and going on nice vacations, you are stuck looking after her. Also you might feel angry at your grandchild’s parents for not being able to take care of their child and leaving you with that responsibility
  • Guilt that you failed as a parent and now your child has failed, too, and you are left responsible for raising your grandchild (this is a very common sentiment).
  • Doubt that you will be able to raise your grandchild well when you possibly failed with raising your own child.
  • Fear that you might repeat the mistakes you made with your own child.
  • Grief that you can’t retire and enjoy what you couldn’t when raising your own child; grief as a result of the loss of your spouse, now leaving you the only grandparent in charge; grief that you can’t just be a grandparent, have fun with your grandkid, love him, give him a lot of attention and then send him home to his parent(s).
  • Resentment toward your child for not being able to parent her child.

These are all very natural emotions to have, especially when your expectations for what your retirement would be and your role as a grandparent are ruined by the reality of becoming a parent to your grandchild. As much as you have these feelings, it is important to think that the grandchild might have similar feelings to your own.

How Do Adopted Grandchildren Feel?

Photo by morleys,

Photo by morleys,

  • He worries that you might not be there, maybe due to age or health or other reasons, and that scares him because sometimes all he has is YOU!
  • She is angry at her parents for not being able to be with her and love her like she deserves.
  • He feels guilty for showing love and attachment to you. He feels a split because he loves his parents no matter what.
  • She grieves the loss of her parents and her abandonment. She also grieves the loss of her grandparents (and all the fun involved with them as grandparents), as they have to play the parent role.
  • He is resentful because most of the kids at school have a mom and a dad who support them by attending their activities.

How to Care for Your Grandchild

When your grandchild lives with you, use the following guidelines to build a strong, healthy relationship with him or her:

  • Set clear boundaries and household rules. When boundaries exist that means that you CARE!
  • Establish a routine that can be followed by your grandchild. This will help your grandchild feel safe and protected in your household.
  • Create predictability, which will keep your grandchild from living in the unknown. When your grandchild knows what to expect from you and when to expect it, they are less likely to develop hypervigilance, a state of constant alertness that prevents children from being able to relax, concentrate, and enjoy life.
  • Photo by Anissa Thompson,

    Photo by Anissa Thompson,

    Be consistent in what you do with/for your grandchild. Follow through with your consequences and rewards and reassure him that you will be there no matter what.

  • Offer unconditional love to your grandchild. Love her for who she is and not for what you would like her to be. Don’t look at your grandchild and see in her your failure as a parent to your child. It is not her fault. Try to be a better parent to your grandchild and believe in that.
  • Don’t talk negatively about his parents in front of your grandchild. He suffers as it is for not having his parents and he feels abandoned; he doesn’t need to hear how horrible his parents are.
  • Assure your grandchild that she can come talk to you any time she has strong feelings and emotions and doesn’t know what to do with them.
  • Find a therapist for your grandchild. He might be able to express feelings with a therapist better than with you and to reflect through play how he feels inside.

How to Care for Yourself

When your grandchild lives with you, it is important that you do things for yourself, too, so you can feel complete – for both of you. Here are the most important actions you can take to ensure your well-being:

  • Find a confidante (friend, counselor, pastor) to talk to and process through your emotions and feelings.
  • Work on what makes you happy. Find time for your hobbies and interests, relax, and enjoy what feeds you. Don’t feel guilty about taking time for yourself!
  • Find a grandparent support group where you can meet other people in your situation and share valuable resources, ideas. and feelings.
  • Take care of yourself and your health. You come first! If you are not healthy, you will not be able to look after your grandkid.
  • Connect with parents at your grandchild’s school and form friendships so you can help your grandchild spend time with her friends from school. Even if sometimes the generation gap seems big, there will be people who will understand!

Always remember … even if you made mistakes the first time around, you probably learned from them and have a different perspective and more wisdom to take care of your grandchild. Even if sometimes you feel tired and beat up and you don’t have enough energy to keep up with your grandchild, you might be the only one who can look after this child. He or she needs you, more than you can imagine.

Remember, when you want to give up, YOU are making a huge difference. Yes, YOU, you wonderful grandparent!

Lavinia Ball-Marian, MA, LPC

Photo by Cristin Spielman Photography, LLC


Lavinia Ball-Marian is a therapist with The Labyrinth Institute specializing in children and families. You can reach her at or 720-432-7475.