Self Care For Grandfamilies
BY Diane Roznowski
“Because my grandson was in so much pain after my daughter left him all my focus was on helping him. I never had the chance to heal from my own loss, even though she was still alive” Jan Wagner, Grandparent Caregiver
When Jan started raising her grandson, she focused her energy on making sure he was safe and well cared for. She knew he was in pain and needed her to heal. She didn’t question putting her grandson’s needs first but doing so meant she didn’t get the chance to heal herself.
This story is all too common among grandfamily caregivers. More than 2.6 million children are being raised in the United States by grandparents, other relatives and close family friends with no parent in the household.[i] These “grandfamilies” are families in which relatives or close family friends step up to raise children unexpectedly because their parents cannot. While the reasons grandfamilies come together differ, one thing typically remains the same, children suffer loss and trauma from being removed or separated from their parents. It is often not uncommon for these children to experience trauma prior to the trauma of leaving their homes. Grandfamily caregivers put the child they are caring for needs before their own, but often it comes at their own expense.
Caregiving is demanding and can be extremely stressful. It can take an emotional and physical toll on the caregiver.
By neglecting their own needs, their caregiving can be negatively impacted. Caregiving is demanding and can be extremely stressful. It can take an emotional and physical toll on the caregiver. By practicing self-care, caregivers can make sure their physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual needs are met, but many caregivers don’t know where to start when it comes to self-care.
Self-care is often misunderstood. Caregivers worry that they are being selfish by taking care of themselves, but self-care is not selfish. It is necessary especially when you are dealing with stress and changed circumstances. Self-care simply put is identifying your needs and taking steps to meet them. It is similar to the oxygen mask on an airplane, you have to put yours on first to help others. Practicing self-care allows caregivers to meet their own needs so they can best meet the needs of the child they are raising.
Tips for practicing self-care:
- Think about your physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual needs.
- Identify where your personal stress comes from and determine if there are any stressors you can cut out or cut back on.
- Communicate effectively when talking about your needs with others, if you are asking for help be clear in doing so. Try to not minimize your request by adding phrases like “if you can.”
- Be open to trying different forms of self-care to find what works best for you.
Examples of self-care:
- Saying no to things you cannot or do not want to do
- Taking time off (or time to yourself) without feeling guilty
- Talking with a loved one or trusted friend
- Sleeping regularly and for long enough
- Reading a good book
For more information on self-care for grandfamily caregivers check out:
- The practicing self-care section of Generations United’s newest publication Grand Resource: Help for Grandfamilies Impacted by Opioids and Other Substance Use
- Carezare: 5 Self Care Tips for Caregivers with Limited Time
- ARCH National Respite Network and Resource Center: 9 Steps to Respite Care for Grandfamilies
- Family Caregiver Alliance: A Guide to Taking Care of Yourself and Caregiver Self-Care: Caring for You
- National Alliance on Mental Illness: Taking Care Of Yourself
Diane Roznowski is the Policy and Program Coordinator at Generations United. She received her BA from American University in Communication, Legal Institutions, Economics, and Government. During her time at American, she completed various internships including ones at the Addiction Policy Forum and the office of Senator Bob Casey. Diane brings personal experience to this issue as a proud member of a grandfamily.