What Not to Say to Grandparents Raising Their Grandchildren

Image courtesy of Nutdanai Apikhomboonwaroot/freedigitalphotos.net

Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. James 3:5

Odds are you know a grandparent involved in the raising of their grandchildren. Over 13 million children in the US are in households with grandparents. In many of these homes, at least one of the parents resides, but today, there are roughly 2.5 million grandparents taking on the sole care of their grandchildren.

My husband and I are one of these statistics. For the last two years, two of our grandchildren, Victoria (10) and Amari (6), have lived with us. We are young for grandparents, both of us in our 50s, but this was not the plan. When we married, I had two children and he had three. Since we married with children already in the mix, we looked forward to the empty nest years. When the house emptied out, we embraced the time for just the two of us. It lasted such a short time, though.

Please do not misunderstand me. I love my grandchildren, and I am glad we are able to care for them. But let’s face it, this wasn’t what we planned on doing at this point in our lives.

People mean well. They see grandparents raising grandchildren, and they try to say something positive about it, but I’ve heard some doozies over the last two years. With that in mind, I thought I would share some of the things you should NOT say to grandparents raising their grandchildren.

  • You’re doing the right thing.  More people say this to me than any other statement. I realize people mean well, but I find this statement patronizing. Did I choose to raise my grandchildren because it was the wrong thing? Or maybe you think I’m having second thoughts, and you’re trying to talk me out of it? Of course, I’m doing the right thing. I don’t need you to remind me.
  • Grandchildren make you feel young again. Alright, let’s expose the myth in this statement. Grandchildren exhaust you. You are not in your twenties or thirties anymore. Interrupted nights of sleep are harder to bounce back from. Your body doesn’t fight off illness as well as it did when you were younger. I once heard someone restate this myth in a more accurate way:  “Grandchildren make you feel young again…for about thirty minutes. Then you feel really old.”  If you have grandchildren, and you’re not raising them, sure it’s fun to spend time with them. I relished in the times I spent with my grandkids when I was just the grandmother, not the parent. It’s non-stop, now. It doesn’t end. I can’t hand them back at the end of the day.
  • I’m sure you have more patience with them then when you raised your own kids. Not necessarily. Look at the paragraph above. The “no rules at my house grandma” can’t live at my house because this is 24/7. They live here. I push them to do their homework, eat their vegetables, go to bed, get up and get ready for school, take a bath, brush their teeth, etc. I’m older and tired. In my specific case, I’m juggling all of this plus running my business. At least when I was a single mom, I came home from my job at the end of the day and didn’t think about it. That’s not so easy when your office is in your home.
  • Can’t someone else raise them? Who? Foster care? When the social worker contacted me she assured me I didn’t want them in the foster system. I know there are good foster parents out there, but these are my flesh and blood. My grandchildren. I shouldn’t have to raise them, but I will do so before I let a stranger take on that responsibility.
  • What’s going on with their parents? If you are close enough to me to know the answer to this, then you won’t have to ask. If you have to ask, it’s none of your business. And PLEASE don’t ask in front of the grandchildren! Seriously. Just don’t. Also, please don’t ask about the missing parents every single time you see the grandparent. Believe it or not, they don’t want to dwell on that. If they feel like talking, they will.
  • I can’t believe your son/daughter is so irresponsible. Grandparents already suffer the pain of the messed up lives of their child. They don’t need you to cast judgement on their adult children. In so doing, you cast judgement on the grandparent, too.
  • Aren’t you enabling your son/daughter’s behavior by raising the children? Of all the things people have said to me, this one shocked me the most. It’s not like I whisked in and grabbed up my grandchildren at the slightest sign of poor parenting. This was not done on a whim. The decision to raise your grandchildren is a heartbreaking one to make. You do it for the safety of the grandchildren. They should not have to pay any more than they already have for the mistakes of their parents.

After reading over these statements, you may be wondering what you should say to the grandparent raising their grandchildren. Here are some welcome comments I’ve received:

  • How are you doing?
  • Can I help?
  • Why don’t you let me take the kids for the day?
  • Are you getting enough rest?

Even this is better because it expresses empathy:  I don’t know how you do it. I had mine for just a day and it took me two days to recover.

If you’ve said any of the “don’t say” statements in the past, don’t beat yourself up. There’s a reason I felt this post was necessary. I’ve heard most of them many times over. So, now you know.

 

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9 thoughts on “What Not to Say to Grandparents Raising Their Grandchildren

  1. I remember a time when I told something a child of mine had done, and the person said, “I can’t imagine MY child ever doing that to me.” Well, guess what? Neither could I! It was killing me!

    I am not the queen of saying just the right thing every time. I’ve had my moments when I said something that hurt someone–not intentionally, of course, but thoughtlessly. So thank you for this. And you know I love my grandchildren, treasure the times I spend with them, but I realize those times are special because I’m “not the mama!” I can send them home, have my quiet times, most of my weekends are my own. I’m the relief person, not the main person.

    I hope and pray that someday you can say the same.

    • Oh Valerie. I know your pain. The irony is that some day down the road, I wouldn’t be surprised if that person’s child did do something that shocked them.

      All of us have stuck our foot in our mouth more than once. I know that many of the people who read this will wonder if they did say one of these things to me. I hope everyone understands that I’m sharing this to help not to hurt. I know well-meaning people say these things, and that’s why I wanted to share with them how it comes across.

    • When they ask in front of the grandchildren, yes. The rest of the time, I try to not be offended. I must say, I didn’t respond well to the first person who suggested I was enabling my daughter by taking the grandchildren.

  2. Pingback: When Called To A Difficult Purpose – The Workbench of Faith

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