Kathie Campbell Greer, custodial grandparent, counselor, writer has provided us with another great blog.
Grandparents raising their grandchildren face a multitude of challenges. In almost every case, it is a choice–and often a sacrifice–the grandparents have made in the best interest of the child.
All of the circumstances are unique to the family unit involved. Sometimes drug or alcohol abuse are the precipitating factor. In other cases the tragic death of one or both parents turns the family upside down. There are horrendous situations involving neglect or abandonment.
But regardless of the reason, commonalities do exist. The most significant may be grief. Very often any change in a child’s living arrangements can be a sad experience. The familiarity and perceived safety of a bedroom, the loss of friends, leaving a trusted teacher and a familiar school can all trigger a sense of profound sadness. That grief is difficult for children to understand and process, even when their parents make the move with them. But when the parents are part of what must be left behind, confusion is compounded and grief can be overwhelming. And while grandparents are helping their grandchildren adjust, they may be dealing with their own grief.
Denial has been established and documented as one of the stages of grief, and it’s an easy trap for custodial grandparents to step into. Much too often we don’t want to acknowledge the harsh realities that have brought our grandchildren to live in our homes. The children often create idolized versions of their parents. They certainly don’t want to hear or see hard truths about their parents. So sometimes it feels better to hold onto fantasies and pretend. The make-believe stories can be as varied as the children and adults who create them.
But a day of reckoning invariably arrives. It often begins with the question, “When can I go home?”
When Z first asked that question he’d been living with me more than three years. I felt like I had created a good, stable home for him. The question devastated me. His dismissal of our house as “home” landed on me like the mortar and bricks of a building that’s foundations had failed.
Z’s mother–my daughter–had neglected him. Worse than that, she had abandoned him on multiple occasions. The harsh reality was that he couldn’t go back to her, because she didn’t want him.
How on earth do you convey that horrible truth to a young boy without destroying him?
I’m not sure it can be done, or even that the path I chose was the best one. We talked about his mother’s mental illness. We talked about the limitations it placed on her. I shared my hope that someday she would get better. I did my best not to lie to him. And I repeatedly stressed my love for him and the things that made us a family and my house a home.
As he got older, Z began to see and understand the realities that had factored into his life. He came to a place close to acceptance, and he retained his love for his mother. But the wounds were deep and even though he’s an adult now, traces of the scars remain.
We can provide them with a safe and happy place to live, and we can bind their wounds to the best of our ability. But we must remember that we can never completely erase their grief. We can only nurture, encourage and support them with our love as they work through it.