Grandparents Raising Grandchildren: What Are They Feeling?

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© Barbara V. Evers, All rights reserved.

As promised last week, this week’s post continues the idea of providing empathetic support to grandparents raising grandchildren.

What is empathy?

Empathy is acknowledging what the person is feeling. You do not have to agree or feel the same thing. You just need to recognize and acknowledge it. Empathy is NOT sympathy. When you reflect your own pity or sorrow onto the person’s situation, you are sympathizing not empathizing.

As I tell the participants in my communication and customer service training workshops, empathy is the most important tool you have to connect with another person. Just the effort of trying to see where they are helps. When someone empathizes with your situation, they build rapport with you. You feel a connection AND relief that someone gets it.

How do you empathize?

Words that should never come out of your mouth include:

  • I know exactly how you feel
  • I  understand

Why? Because you don’t. You might come close to understanding based on what you’ve experienced in your own life, but no one can fully understand what someone else feels in relation to a situation. If you listen to the person, often you’ll gain clues of what they’re feeling. It’s ok to express what you think is going on in them. If you get it wrong, they’ll correct you and still appreciate the effort.

Another phrase that doesn’t empathize is I’m sorry. That’s sympathy, not empathy.

It takes some practice to change the way you respond, but some of the easiest ways to express empathy are:

  • It sounds like you’re feeling ___________.
  • I’m sensing that you might be _____________.

Identify the emotion you think they’re feeling and insert it in the blank. That’s where the hard part comes in—trying to identify that emotion. Again, if you listen, you will gain clues from what the person says.

In business, I suggest you don’t use the words angry, mad, or upset. These tend to add fuel to the fire. In a personal relationship, you want to be careful about using these words, too.

What do grandparents raising grandchildren feel?

When I wrote my post, Don’t Throw Me a Pity Party, I spoke for myself, providing insight to my own journey; however, I received enthusiastice responses from several people in the same situation. One person’s comment was: “Nailed it!” Believe it or not, I needed to hear that because I feared people might judge me as uncaring.

So keeping in mind that I’m writing this from my own perspecitive, I am going to suggest some of the emotions grandparents raising grandchildren feel.

Tired and Exhausted: We are not as young as we were when we raised our children. It had been thirty years since I’d had a four-year-old in my home when the grands came to live with us. Yes, we’ve adapted over the last three years, but we’re still bone-tired. We don’t bounce back like we did in our twenties and thirties.

Worried about finances: We’re nearing the end of our careers if we’re not already retired. That means there’s a limit to the income coming in and the income we will have to support the kids. Our bank accounts hemorrage money at a time when we can least afford it.

Distanced or separated: Because we’re focused on children, school, homework, activities, we’re thrown into a world far different than the friends we’ve had. I’ve discovered some friends disappear. They don’t try to stay in contact. That hurts. I make an effort to spend time with friends when I can, but it’s a two-way street. I really appreciate the ones who reach out to me instead of waiting for me to contact them. I am making new friends among the parents of the kids classmates, but it takes time.

Alone: This is related to the one above, but it includes the relationship with our spouse. At a time when we’re supposed to be doing the things we’d planned to do once the children moved out, we’ve taken multiple steps backward. By the time we will have the freedom to do those things, we probably won’t have the energy, health, or money. Plus, babysitters are $10/hour! That’s more than minimum wage. When my children were young, babysitters did not make more than minimum wage. We need time to ourselves, but often we can’t afford it.Between exhaustion and the need to keep an income source going longer, we’re missing out on what was supposed to be our time.

So, there you have it. There are more emotions than these, but this will give you some idea how to reach out to us (and by us I mean any grandparent raising grandchildren).


What Surprised Me About Last Week

© Barbara V. Evers, All rights reserved.

Last week’s post, Don’t Throw Me a Pity Party, generated a number of comments on this blog as well as on my social media sites. I appreciate everyone who commented and shared. I’m amazed at how many of you are dealing or have dealt with a family member trapped in addiction. I find the prevalence of this problem disconcerting. Yes, it’s comforting to know who understands firsthand, but I’m still concerned over the number of people affected. Please remember, you don’t know what someone else is dealing with so be kind and try not to judge them.

The surprising part of last week’s post was the volume of responses that focused on our daughter’s addiction rather than our current situation. Yet, most of the sympathy statements I receive relate to our raising grandchildren. Yes, it’s due to our daughter’s addiction, but that’s not what I hear about from most people. As I told one person on Facebook, I believe people focus on what they see—grandparents in a tough spot—and not the issue of what put them there. Maybe I’m wrong. It doesn’t really matter because the two issues go hand in hand.

Early in my writing career, I discovered that individual interpretation of what I write will vary from person to person. Sometimes, the insight surprises me. I don’t think that’s bad. When we read, we filter the information through our own perception, our own world. I’m glad my words resonated with so many people! Thank you for reading and sharing.

Next week, I plan to give you more insight into what grandparents in our situation often feel. So, get ready for some assistance on how to be empathetic with grand-parents.


PS:  You may have noticed I’ve been using the term “grand-parenting” in my posts. I made this term up because I believe it’s the best way to describe what we’re doing as we raise our grandchildren.

Don’t Throw Me a Pity Party

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I’ve thought long and hard about writing this post. I want to share something that I’m afraid many of you won’t get. Hopefully, I’ll say it in a way you can understand.

Here’s the truth about our situation: I’m not upset, disappointed, sad, or any other negative emotion you might decide I should feel regarding my daughter’s life choices. She started making poor choices in her teen years, straightened up for a while, then headed down this path again. There comes a time when you no longer feel what everyone assumes you should feel. I hit that point many years ago.

You’ve experienced this in your life, too, I bet. For instance…

As a kid, I loved riding my bicycle around the neighborhood.  One year, I fell and scraped up my knee pretty badly. It scabbed over, but before it healed, I fell and scraped it again. And again. And again. I didn’t stop enjoying my bike. I rode it every day, anyway. After awhile, the pain didn’t matter. I’d lived through the scraped up, bloody knee. I’d learned what caused the pain and learned to avoid it. And, the skin on my knee grew tougher in order to protect that part of my body.

That’s what this is like.

You feel scraped up and bloody when bad things start happening in your child’s life. Each time they make a poor decision, it surprises you less. Then one day, you feel no surprise at all. Your heart toughened.  You know this is how it’s going to be. Life goes on and worrying doesn’t change the circumstances.

This doesn’t mean I’ve given up on my daughter. I love her, but, in truth, I love the child I raised, not the person she’s become. Every interaction I have with her, now, reinforces this point. Even if she does return to a clean life, she’ll never be the child I knew again.

I’m ok with that.

I don’t spend my days worrying about her. Who has time?

I don’t rethink my parenting skills (we raised four other children who don’t have these issues, after all).

In the early years of my daughter’s troubles with addiction, I prayed a lot for her, passing it on to God, and then I let it go. I hoped for changes in her life, and she did make them for a few years. Then she slipped up, and down this slope she went, again. It’s nothing new. She’s almost thirty-eight. She’s spent most of her adult life on this path. I doubt she’s going to change. For some of you my last statement sounds heartless and un-Christian, but I’ve seen how much this life has a hold on her.

So, what do I feel?

In regards to her: not much.

Her behavior does not rule my moods and attitudes. I’m too busy. Life’s too short. Yes, I pray for her, but  not as much as I used to. God’s given me other responsibilities–my grandchildren. They’re my focus. When I blog about what we’re dealing with, I’m sharing with you in hopes that others going through the same thing will find strength in knowing someone else gets it. Also, I write these posts to make others aware of this situation. I am not alone. Several of my grandchildren’s classmates live with their grandparents instead of their parents. By revealing this reality to you, I hope you will find ways to support these grandparents and their grandchildren, to provide empathy for their struggles.

And that’s a key point to remember: empathize not sympathize.

To express sympathy is to feel sorry for someone. I get a lot of those statements from people online and in my circle of friends. With sympathy, you express how you would feel rather than how they feel. Most people can’t fathom going through this, so your responses tend to be full of sorrow and grief.

To express empathy is to recognize what we’re feeling and acknowledge it. You don’t have to agree with it or feel it, you just acknowledge it. Many people have empathized with me. Some of the most appreciated statements I’ve heard are:

  • Wow. I had my niece with me for an afternoon and was exhausted after a few short hours. (This was one of the first comments I received after revealing this change in our lives. I wanted to hug her right through Facebook.)
  • Heavy sigh my friend…Definitely lifting you up in prayer. (This came from a blogger who is telling the same kind of story after reading my post about the frustration I felt toward my daughter when she started making false promises to my grandchildren.  I knew she couldn’t keep the promises and this woman knew it too.)
  • Thanks for sharing. I’m glad you’re telling your story. (Which is why I’m doing it.)
  • You don’t deserve this. (Yep. Who does?)

Do you see the difference between the statements above and expressions like:

  • “I’m sorry you’re going through this.”
  • “I’m sorry your daughter hasn’t been in touch.”
  • Or with a quiet, sad voice asking, “Have you heard from her?”

If you don’t recognize the difference, let me help you. Sympathy statements are real downers. They assume I’m moping around under a funk of depression. Empathy statements provide support. They see me where I am.

BUT…If you’ve made sympathy statements to me, please don’t kick  yourself.

You’re in the majority. I just want everyone to understand I’m not in mourning. I’m not hoping for a change. I don’t spend my days grieving. I laugh every single day. I’m not doing what I thought I’d be doing at this point in my life, but who is? Yes, I would love for my daughter to straighten up, but it’s not up to me. It’s not on my shoulders.

I’m too busy and too much a daughter of our Lord to let these things weigh me down.

I want to share information in order to help others deal with this. I love hearing from you. Feel free to ask questions or just say what you’re thinking. The point of this post is to let you off the hook: you don’t have to feel sorry for me. I don’t need a pity party.

Hey, but if you want to throw me a party party, I’m all in. Life’s too short to drag around like the world is ending.