1. Evaluate your finances.

Most grandparents are not financially strong. The additional burden of taking care of grandchildren is often enough to plunge both the grandparents and the children into dire financial straits.

According to the census bureau, 1/4 of the children being raised by their grandparents were “poor” IF the parent also lived in the home.  2/3 of those children were “poor” if the parent did not also live at home.  1/3 of these children do not have health insurance, and more than half are on public assistance. Before agreeing to be financially responsible, the financial arrangements need to be accurately assessed. Legal advice is usually a good idea. Prior to assuming the financial responsibility, grandparents (or other guardians) need to know exactly how much assistance they are eligible for, how much it will cost to take care of the children, what health insurance is available and at what cost, and know exactly how much the parents will be contributing to the financial burden of raising the child. It’s wise to factor in the possible future cost of psychological counseling. A written commitment from the parents is often useful to prevent misunderstandings.

2. Get a physical check up.

Age reduces our stamina and energy. Raising children can be exhausting and stressful. It’s wise to see your physician for a checkup, possibly including a stress test. Ask your physician about your physical fitness to undertake this responsibility, and how the stress will affect your current medical problems and risk factors.

3. Evaluate your time commitments

Children spell love T.I.M.E. The grandparent may have forgotten the time commitment needed to successfully raise a child. Meals together, trips, playgrounds, parent/teacher organizations, doctor visits and being a chauffeur will occupy much of the grandparent’s time. Many current activities will need to be abandoned, and which ones will need careful thought.

4. Get a mental health evaluation

Mental health problems contribute enormously to the problem. Since many are genetic, it’s wise for the grandparents to evaluate their possible diagnoses as well as the grandchildren. Stress makes everything worse, and the stress of raising a grandchild will worsen underlying mental health diagnoses, especially the ones discussed in “Biological Unhappiness.” The screening test I use for my patients will be very helpful in this regard, and will give clues regarding diagnoses. Don’t pretend these problems don’t exist, particularly because they may have caused you to be a parent again. The truth can be denied, but it can never be avoided. Alcohol and other drugs are often used to self-medicate these disorders and contribute to a continuing legacy of tragedy and suffering.

5. Get the important documents

You will need the children’s immunization record and other medical records, social security information, and likely a copy of the birth certificate. You’ll also need some legal document allowing health care providers to know that you are the legal guardian. Without that documentation, a physician may be unable to treat the child except during a life and death emergency.

6. Make preparations for giving the children back

Whether court ordered or agreeing to take over, issues should be handled IN WRITING to prevent misunderstandings and eventual hard feelings. When and under what circumstances the parents will get the children back is a crucial topic that must be handled carefully. Everyone, including the children, will be hurt by misunderstandings and hard feelings. A lawyer and/or therapist may be necessary in this regard. Seeing a therapist is often a good choice for the grandparent to sort out their actual feelings and desires. It’s also wise to have a clear visitation agreement for when the children are back with their parents, and under what circumstances you’ll take the children back.

7. Prepare for the parents getting a divorce

Grandparents rights are regularly being defined in the courts and possibly in the legislature. This is another area where the grandparents need things in writing, preferably from both parents. Children are often treated as pawns and sometimes as weapons during divorce fights. Do not let the children be injured in this regard.

8. Acquire knowledge

Children are growing up in a very different time, society and culture than their grandparents did. Most children don’t know about the Cold War (or the Soviet Union), the oil crisis, or life before AIDS and the Internet. They don’t even know about records, only CD’s. They face crime, gangs, sexual pressure, drug availability, and an array of options unlike any previous generation. Many involved in the television, movie, print media, advertising, and music industries have studied what “works” marketing to children and teens, and may not have the child’s best interests at heart. It helps for the grandparent to learn about what they face to help guide them through the stresses. It’s also a good idea to study techniques about parenting that have evolved over time. Being a great role model is crucial. Zig Ziglar’s tape series “Raising Positive Kids in a Negative World” (1-800-527-0306) is a very useful tool. Investigate organizations like AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) and books like “To Grandma’s House We…Stay” by Sally Houtman, M.S. Learn to search the Internet as there are many references regarding “grandparents raising grandchildren.” Knowledge is indeed power, and ignorance is rarely bliss.

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