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Raising Grandkids: What To Do
When The Honeymoon Ends
"Jan is a sixty-five-year-old grandmother who was given custody of
her two grandsons, aged 8 and 15, after her daughter was jailed for drug abuse.
"At first, it was a joy to have them in our house," said Jan, whose
grandchildren came to live with her one year ago. "They seemed so happy to be
here. But then the real problems started. Now, my older grandson either just
plain ignores me or he talks back" I don't know which is worse. And the younger
one is starting to follow suit. I'm starting to wonder where we went wrong.?
Raising Grandkids: When the Honeymoon is Over
Like Jan, often when you first take your grandchild in, there's a honeymoon
period where the change of environment and absence of stress from the old living
situation gives your grandchild the chance to show his or her best side, which
is great. Sadly, all too often the honeymoon ends. And the problematic behaviors
emerge-sometimes slowly, sometimes with great rapidity. Either way, it knocks
the family off balance. The honeymoon should be expected, but grandparents
should not be deceived into thinking that a magic solution to the family's
problems has occurred by having the grandchildren come live with them. If the
honeymoon never ends and your grandchild always does great, that's beautiful. But
sometimes these kids are initially being manipulative, and are using their
skills to try to "con" their grandparents. It's my experience that
this is a very common thing for kids to do. So if the period of calm ends and
the disruptive behavior emerges, I tell grandparents "Don't blame yourself. This is
just the end of the honeymoon. And you're starting to see the child in the light
of his true problems.?
If You're Helping to Raise Your Grandchildren While Their Parents are Working
Many grandparents are watching their grandkids in the daytime while a single
parent or even both parents are working. So in effect, those kids have two sets
of parents and two parenting styles to cope with, and those styles may not
always be in sync. If the picture is that there's a working single parent and
that you are raising the child during the work hours, it's very important that
you and the child's parents sit down and come to a common understanding of how
you're going to manage behavior, what the limits are, and the range of
consequences that are appropriate. New situations will present themselves every
day, and you may get frustrated from time to time and feel like you're going
back to the drawing board, but stick with it. It's very important that all the
adults in the child's life are on the same page.
The difficulty here is that grandparents don't like to be told how to raise
their grandkids, thinking that they've raised their own children and know how to
do it just fine. And parents don't want their kids to be raised outside of their
own philosophy. This can become a point of conflict between grandparents and
their children. Communication and a willingness to look and learn by both
parties will prevent this problem from becoming a crisis.
When You Have Custody of Your Grandchildren Because of Parental Addiction,
Abandonment or Neglect
Children who are living with their grandparents because of parental addiction,
neglect or abandonment bring a whole set of other problems to deal with. These
kids are already programmed to deal with the negative environment they came
from, and may not be ready to move into a family situation where there are
boundaries and rules. What grandparents have to remember is, when your
grandchildren move in with you, you are their new family.
In my private practice, I knew many grandparents who raised their grandchildren
because of parental neglect, abandonment, incarceration or substance abuse.
Frankly, these grandparents had their hands full. Often their grandkids came to
them with a constellation of inappropriate behaviors already firmly in place. It
was very hard for these grandparents to try to change that behavior or intervene
in the child's life. And there are generational difficulties, as well as
physical problems with caring for children when you're older. Your energy levels
and mental flexibility may not be what they were when you were parenting young
If the picture is that the grandparents are raising the child because of
parental neglect, abuse or abandonment, above all, the parents should not be
allowed to undermine the authority or rules the grandparents have put in place.
You should limit or forbid visits until the parent is willing to comply with
that. That's because the grandparents have now become the primary parents, and
the birth parents have to take a secondary role. It's all too easy for the
secondary parents to judge grandparents and be critical of their efforts,
because it helps the birth parent not look at his or her own irresponsibility
and neglect. But this should not be tolerated, especially in front of the
children. The grandparents and the birth parent have to communicate, share
thoughts and ideas, and then come to some method of operating together.
I want to be clear: such meetings should not become a forum for birth parents to
be abusive, oppositional or defiant to the grandparent. This is all too often
the case. Grandparents should not accept blame from birth parents who have lost
their ability to meet their own parenting responsibilities.
"You're not my mom! I don?t have to listen to you!"
When your grandchild says, "You're not my parent!" I think the best strategy
here is to agree with the child. You can say, "You're right, I'm not your mom.
But you live in my house now, and these are the rules in my house." Do not
condemn the mom or dad or get into a discussion about it. All you have to say
is, "There are the rules here, and there will be consequences if you don't
When kids say "You're not my mom or dad," what they're really trying to do is
take the power away from you. Focus on what your role is: Caretaker. That means
you should inform the child what the rules are in your house. The whole idea
here is to avoid a power struggle. What your grandchild is doing is inviting you
to a fight. And remember, you don't have to attend every fight you're invited
to. Avoid the power struggle, and calmly state what your role is and what the
rules are. It's very important to verbalize no judgments about the mother or
father. Judgments will only lead to more anger and resentment, which will lead
to more power struggles.
I want to add that I really admire and respect grandparents-or anyone who adopts
or takes in a child who has behavioral problems. In my opinion, they're amazing.
But that doesn't mean that you can do it alone. And just as parents need help,
so do grandparents, and I urge you to get the help you need to successfully live
raise these children.
For Grandparents whose Grandchildren are Being Physically Abusive
First of all, if your grandchild is being physically abusive to you, you should
call the police. There's no excuse for physical abuse. You did not work all your
life to be abused physically in your later years. If you want to be a martyr and
allow that, that's your choice. But understand this: choosing to be a martyr
doesn't help the child. If you think you are doing it to help that child, what
you need to understand is that the most important thing for that child is to
have powerful limits set for them. And if they won't accept the limits imposed
by you, then you need to look outside the home for entities with more power,
such as the police and the social service system. Often you'll hear grandparents
state that they don't want to call the authorities because they're afraid their
grandchild will end up in group home or institution. My response is clear: if
he's physically hurting you, robbing you, or abusing you, maybe he needs to be
in a group home or institution where the resources are available to teach him
how to manage himself.
I don't say this to be harsh. I say it with complete empathy for your situation.
The fact remains that kids who are physically abusive, steal, set fires, or
destroy property often need more resources than the ordinary family has to
offer. These behaviors should be taken very seriously indeed, because they can
be precursors of much larger problems.
If You're Considering Taking in a Grandchild, Ask Yourself: Are You Able to
Manage a Child with Behavioral Problems?
In my experience, many of the grandparents I worked with were very committed to
their grandchildren, but were in fact just plain tired. They had lived their
lives, they had worked like dogs, they had raised their kids, and now when they
were dealing with their own failing health and financial problems, they felt
obligated to take on the burden of raising their grandchildren. While I respect
the generosity of grandparents tremendously, I wouldn't always advise people to
try to manage a behaviorally disordered grandchild. Each case is different.
Remember, if the kid is well-behaved and knows how to manage himself, accept
authority and recognize limits, the grandparents can do fine. But behaviorally
disordered children are not only draining, they require people who have acquired
special techniques in order to
Parenting Today Aint What it Used to Be: Get Help if You Need It
Many of the behaviors grandparents have to address today were not part of the
youth culture 30 or 50 years ago: The blatant disrespect, the demand for
autonomy, the open defiance to rules. These things were present, but not at the
level of intensity they are today. Grandparents I met in my practice often
reported to me how shocked and discouraged they where when their grandkids did
not accept their authority or the limits they set.
My advice to grandparents in cases where inappropriate behaviors start to emerge
is to get help. That help can be outside the home in a counselor's office, or
that help can be inside the home through a training program like The Total
Transformation. If these children have behavior disorders, you're going to see
all that goes along with that: manipulative behavior, risk taking, rigidity,
senseless defiance. Remember not to blame yourself if these behaviors emerge:
grandparents need as much help as anybody else in dealing with these issues. (Raising
Grandkids: What To Do When The Honeymoon Ends
reprinted with permission from
by James Lehman, MSW
For three decades, behavioral therapist James
Lehman, MSW, has worked with troubled teens and children with behavior problems.
He has developed a practical, real-life approach to managing children and
adolescents that teaches them how to solve social problems without hiding behind
a facade of defiant, disrespectful, or obnoxious behavior. He has taught his
approach to parents, teachers, state agencies and treatment centers in private
practice and now through
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