In any media frenzy lately, Britney Spears is at the top of the list when it comes to celebrities and controversy. What do you think – is she a puppet of the press or does her public humiliation reflect the downfall of our society? Erratic behavior, such as shaving off her hair, attacking the paparazzi or posing without underwear, is one thing. But don’t you believe we should draw the line on America’s addiction to B-list bad girls when the best interests of their children are at stake? And, if young parents act irresponsibly and are unable to care for their children, is it up to their own parents – often hard working, card carrying members of the Sandwich Generation – to step in?
An increasing number of boomer grandparents are assuming greater care-giving and financial responsibilities for their grandchildren. Recent statistics indicate that more than 2.9 million grandparents are raising 4.5 million grandchildren. This is particularly true in homes where the circumstances involve a single parent, a habitual substance abuse problem or chronic illness. So, if you feel that you’re caught either in the middle of a soap opera or a complex and painful crisis, here are some ideas to consider as you begin to take better care of your grandchildren, your children and yourself:
1. It is important for you to grieve whatever it is you have lost – perhaps it’s the freedom to retire or work less at this time of your life, the dreams you had for the future of your extended family, or your children as you once knew them.
2. Accept the changes in your family, whatever they are, even if you feel caught in the crossfire. Validate your child’s feelings and withhold blame. While you can show support, try not to take a particular side or excuse bad behavior. Remember that your primary concern here is to attend to the immediate needs of your grandchildren.
3. Maintain a bond with your child’s partner and extended family, even if, for the time being, you have to put these relationships on the back burner. By keeping the lines of communication open, your grandchildren will transition easier if they move from one home and family to the other. And a grandchild can’t have too many loving arms.
4. There will be a huge void to fill and you may be confused about your role now. Don’t be afraid to seek out a parenting coach or a family therapist. Although you likely were a natural when your kids were young, this is a unique situation. Learning skills and techniques from experts can make a big difference the second time around and talking with someone outside of the family about your worries and frustrations can be a lifesaver.
5. Do whatever is necessary to maintain familiarity and continuity in the lives of your grandchildren. By nurturing them and stabilizing their environment, they will begin to feel more secure. The structure in their lives and the support you give them will relieve their feelings of anxiety and stress. Children are resilient – as you model positive thinking and hope, they will thrive.
6. Whether their troubling behavior stems from a hunger inside that needs to be satisfied, a serious emotional problem or habitual drug use, encourage your children to examine their own lives. By keeping the home fires burning, you afford them the opportunity to focus on greater personal awareness and their own emotional growth.
Many of our young people seek their self worth through the approval of others and habitual substance abuse is a major problem in our society. Community resources are positioned to help out when our adult children – struggling with shared child custody issues – need conciliation court, random drug tests, or rehabilitation. Through all these difficulties, our grandchildren need representation and someone to speak on their behalf. They deserve role models with strong ethical standards, integrity and character. Just as Britney Spears, hopefully, will take care of herself in preparation for return to her sons, our children need our support as they get healthy enough to come home and raise our grandchildren.
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