Caring for yourself is caring for your grandchild
BY JAIA LENT
Your grandbaby needs you. Research shows that children who have a strong relationship with a consistent, caring adult in their early years have better academic grades, healthier behaviors, more positive peer interactions and an increased ability to cope with stress.[i] The relationship with that caring adult is so important it can even protect against trauma for babies and toddlers exposed to violence. For many children that caring adult is their mother or father, but for more than 2.5 million grandparents across the country who report they are responsible for their grandchildren, the weight of this role may fall squarely on them[ii].
“Whether you are caring for your grandchildren full-time or just occasionally, prioritizing your own health is critically important.”
Many of these grandparents step in unexpectedly to raise children when their parents cannot. Often the grandchildren have experienced trauma before entering their care and arrive with complex emotional, physical and behavioral issues. In their efforts to provide for the needs of the children, grandparent caregivers often put their own health on the backburner. The stress of caring for a new baby, child or teenager, combined with neglecting their own health needs can lead to poor health conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes.[iii]
Whether you are caring for your grandchildren full-time or just occasionally, prioritizing your own health is critically important. Research shows that caregivers do best for children when they are healthy – physically, mentally and emotionally[iv]. This year, as part of a campaign related to Grandparents Day, Generations United is urging grandparents to participate in a series of activities that promote health for you and your grandchild. From making sure you and your grandchild have received the vaccines you need to connect with social supports, here are a few tips and resources to help you and your grandchild get and stay healthy:
Get Vaccinated: A big part of staying healthy is protecting you and your grandchildren from getting illnesses in the first place. Generations United’s Valuing Vaccines Across the Generations campaign is rich with resources about what vaccines might be right for you and your grandchild as well as a discussion guide to talk with your grandchildren about why protecting your health through vaccines is important.
Get Connected: Whether it’s a support group for grandparents raising grandchildren, or information on where to go for nutrition assistance, financial or legal help, the Grand Fact Sheets at www.grandfamilies.org have information about resources and programs for grandparents raising grandchildren in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
Get Engaged: Generations United’s Grandparents Day campaign includes a Take Action Guide and Calendar which highlights a series of ways you can get engaged in September to promote health for you and your grandchildren.
Get Rested: Sometimes the best way to take care of yourself is to take a break. For grandparents raising grandchildren full-time, this often means finding others you trust to care for your grandchildren for a few hours to a few days while you get some needed respite. The ARCH National Network Respite Locator can help you learn about trusted professional respite options near you.
[iv] Addressing the Needs of Children Exposed to Trauma: It’s All About Relationships. Presentation by Dr. Neena McConnico, Child Witness to Violence Project, during a briefing of the Congressional Baby Caucus, July 2017.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jaia Peterson Lent is Deputy Executive Director of Generations United, a national organization dedicated to improving lives. Home to the National Center on Grandfamilies, Generations United is a leading voice for issues affecting families headed by grandparents or other relatives.