Grandparents or kin who find themselves in a position of having to raise children at a later stage in life face many challenges:

  • Is their health up to taking on perhaps small and troubled children, do they have enough room in their home to house them? Many have downsized their homes due to age and costs.
  • How will they be able to afford them, in feeding, clothing them and school expenses.
  • What if they need specialist services and at what cost?
  • Then there is the worry of potential legal fees in getting orders over the children.
  • The small car they may have bought is no longer big enough to transport them all.

So many issues to consider, but so often at the time, in an emergency, one does not consider the wider issues. Challenges emerge as grandparents raising grandchildren travel this road. Hindsight they say is a wonderful thing. Here are some insights I have gained.

Consider the wider family

One must consider the wider family and other grandchildren. What will be the ramifications on them and indeed how will this reverberate back on the grandparents? Very often the wider family dynamics can have devastating effects.

Family may resent you for taking on these children. You may be too tired to help them with their children; they may even think their potential inheritance will be eaten up in costs incurred when taking on these children.  Jealousy can rear its ugly head in so many ways and this also could be from the grandchildren who do not live with you. In some families, this is not an issue but sometimes this can come from left field and unexpectedly.

‘You’ve stolen my children’

At times, the parent/s of the children you have taken under your wing do not thank you for doing this and some may bring stress and vileness to your door. They may blame you for ‘stealing their children’ or causing this to happen.  This can divide the wider family, so that one can end up extremely isolated feeling like you are fighting the world. They may orchestrate family court challenges time and time again, leaving grandparents broke and in some cases giving up. This does not necessarily mean the children will go back to the parents, very often it will mean Foster Care for them under Child Youth and Family care. A grandparents’ worse nightmare.

Grandparents raising grandchildren

But in facing these challenges one finds an inner strength, I liken it to standing on a moving mat. Sometimes it is plain sailing, other times we are holding on tight with knuckles white. Having someone to talk to who understands the issues you face can be your saving grace. To know you are not alone and there is a listening ear with knowledge on where to go and what to do can make a world of difference. And then there are the children you raise, who need you, need to have routine and a safe home. Something as simple as a cuddle or ‘I love you Nanny’ shines sunshine into one’s life.

There is also the issue of the child you have given birth to – your child, the mother or father of the children you have to raise. To go up in Court against your own child is one of the hardest things one has to do. Many times we are asked by the grandparents how they can live with this; how can they settle the anguish in their minds about this. Our research showed us that the majority of parents of children were 26.5 years for mothers and 28 years for fathers. These parents are adults in their own right they have a voice and a choice, the little children have no voice nor choice, so these grandparents must be the voice and make a choice for the children.

Not easy is it? But there you stand with arms outstretched protecting the wee ones, unselfishly.

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Diane Vivian is the founding member and chair of Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Trust NZ. When in 1997, Diane Vivian took over the care of her small, traumatised grandchildren, she could not believe the stress she encountered. Setting about to discover what help or support was available in 1999, she found there was none! The organisation formed to meet this need salutes all Grandparents/kin who have taken in Grand/kin children and put the needs of those precious ones before their own.

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