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The Stress of Caregiving

Ah, the golden years. You've worked hard, earned a decent living, raised your children who are now adults, and are looking forward to a little rest and relaxation. If you are the primary caregiver of your grandchildren, however, you probably don't have much time for that.

According to the 2000 U.S. Census, 4.1 million American households include grandparents and grandchildren. Of these households, 1.4 million have no parent in the home, and studies have shown that grandparents who are caregivers to grandchildren - grandmothers, in particular - are more prone to stress and depression than non-caregivers. If you are a caregiving grandparent who often feels overwhelmed, this fact may not surprise you.

The most recent research conducted to examine these statistics began in 2001 at the Case Western Reserve University's school of nursing. Funded by the National Institutes of Health, the four-year study, which concluded in 2005, looked at the effects of caregiving on the health of 450 American grandmothers, as well as the impact it had on their families.

Admirably, you have stepped up and taken on the responsibility of raising your children's children. But now you may be facing some worrisome issues. Although you recognize the life-giving and energizing benefits of your position, you are also aware that the role can be time-consuming, tiresome, and often financially and emotionally burdensome. The decisions you have made out of love and a sense of familial duty can put quite a heavy weight on your shoulders.

According to Carol Musil, associate professor of nursing at Case University, grandmothers are "older women who may have health needs of their own, so caring for a grandchild who may have health problems, developmental challenges, or an increased need for more care creates additional stress for [them]."

The ages of the children you take care of may make a difference in the type of stress you suffer from. Younger children, for example, are more physically demanding, but older children tend to require more of your emotional and psychological energy.

By far the most important thing you can do to help ease the negative effects of stress on your health is to seek support. A sufficient amount of emotional and physical support from friends and family can make a dramatic difference in your health and ability to provide care for your grandchildren. You'll experience less stress if you have other women around you to rely on for support, especially if they are in similar situations.

Support groups for grandparents raising grandchildren have sprung up all across the U.S. in recent years. Some of the largest and most reputable organizations include the AARP Grandparent Information Center, Generations United, and Grandparents Raising Grandchildren.

In addition to seeking support, the following are other ideas that can help you cope with the stresses of raising your grandchildren.

Rememberů

  • Always put your own physical and emotional health at the top of the list. A healthy diet, regular exercise, relaxation, and enjoyable activities are all essential for staying healthy, maintaining energy levels and reducing stress.

  • Don't be afraid to ask for help. Taking care of every little thing by yourself can leave you overwhelmed and run down. We all need support and there's no shame in turning to friends and family when you need a hand.

  • Use local resources to find services in your community that can provide be financial, legal, and/or educational information and support. The better informed you are, the better off you and your grandchildren will be.

  • Raise awareness in your community by bringing other grandparents like you together to outline the need for additional services, financial assistance and health-related support for grandparents in your area and across the country. Join forces and urge government agencies, the legal system, schools, insurance companies, social agencies, religious and other institutions to recognize the good you are doing and to help lighten your burden as much as possible.

Raising a grandchild can be challenging, but it can also be incredibly rewarding. There is no greater gift than the love and respect you receive from a grandchild who understands and appreciates the sacrifices you have made so that they can grow up to be happy, healthy adults.

 


 

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