A Grandparent’s Guide to Self-Care
More and more grandparents are taking on the day-to-day responsibilities of raising their grandchildren. Raising a child can be exhilarating, and also physically demanding. Stay healthy with a few quick tips from June M. McKoy, MD, MPH, a geriatrician at Northwestern Medicine.
You’re Not Alone
In the United States, about 2.7 million grandparents are the sole caregivers or heads of household for “grand-families” or “kinship families.” In Illinois, more than 280,000 children under the age of 18 live with a relative with no parent present, and 211,000 of these children live with a grandparent.
You may be putting off your retirement or personal leisure time to raise your grandchild, but this experience can give you renewed purpose in life:
- From first steps to the first day of school, you have a front-row seat for all those milestone moments.
- You’ll have more contact than just a brief weekly phone call or holiday visit.
- You can experience the satisfaction of seeing your grandchild learn and grow.
- Regardless of the reason for creating this grand-family, you’ll probably feel some relief knowing that you’re providing a stable environment for your grandchild.
How to Cope
Keeping up with the needs and schedules of a child or adolescent takes a lot of time and dedication. Neglecting your own health can lead to more serious health complications such as diabetes, hypertension, insomnia or gastric distress.
As we get older our bodies undergo several age-related changes – decrease in hearing and vision, slowed walking and some memory changes. It becomes hard at times to keep pace with grandchildren, many of whom are going through their own milestones and emotional changes.
It’s important not to let your own health suffer. Remember to:
- Get your rest. Older adults still need to get between seven to nine hours of sleep, and insomnia is common. If you’re having restless nights, be sure to talk to your physician. Lack of sleep increases your risk for falls and cognitive decline.
- Schedule me-time. Take care of yourself by arranging an occasional night out, and build time into your schedule for your own hobbies and exercise. Ask for help so that you can go to your annual check-up and physician appointments. Get your preventive cancer screenings such as pap smear, mammogram, colonoscopy and prostate exam. Your grandchildren want you to be around.
- Eat a healthy diet, with lots of fruits and vegetables. You’re busy, but your nutrition doesn’t have to suffer. Try one of these ideas for quick and healthy breakfasts or dinners without the fuss.
- Talk about your feelings. Find a support group, or share your experiences, hopes and frustrations with a friend. It’s natural to have mixed feelings about this new role.
- Recognize your strengths. You may not have the energy you did when you were raising your own children, but you have experience as a parent that can make a big difference in your grandchild’s life. Plus, you’ve learned from your mistakes. Never underestimate the love and wisdom you have to offer.
- Lean on your grandkids. Even young children can — and should — help around the house with daily chores, like taking out the trash or emptying the dishwasher. You need the support, and while you may be tempted to spoil them, you won’t do your grandchildren any favors if you raise them without responsibilities.
Laws to Help You
The Supporting Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Act is a federal law that aims to improve the lives of kids and older adults. It assists kinship caregivers in learning about, finding and using programs and services to meet their own needs and the needs of the children they are raising.
Managing a household budget may be harder in this stage of life, so seek out financial advice, especially about legal fees, court costs and even tax credits such the Grandparents Tax Credit Act. Remember the importance of planning ahead for your own future, with resources like Plan Your Lifespan.
AgeOptions, a nonprofit agency in Illinois provides services to support grandparents raising grandchildren, including counseling and assistance with issues related to guardianship and adoption. For grandparents living with cancer, Cancer Legal Resource Center provides a broad array of services to help make the journey much easier.
You probably weren’t expecting to raise kids again, and it’s easy to let your own needs take a back seat. A healthy you means healthier grandchildren, so take these steps to put your physical and mental health first.