The Caregivers is a unique series focused on the challenges and triumphs of caregiving. These stories have been created through a strategic partnership between AARP and Word In Black.
More than 2.4 million grandparents are raising grandkids across the United States. This has long been a function within Black families. We have grandparents who assume legal guardianship and others who support the family as informal caregivers. For every grandparent, the path into caring for grandkids is different. The biological parents may be completing school or working in another city. They may be experiencing short- or long-term incarceration, substance abuse or ailing mental or physical health. No matter the circumstance, caregiving can bring deep pride, but also serious expectations, stress, and financial hardship for grandparents. Caring for grandchildren and oneself is a necessary balancing act. Here are some tools for inviting balance into your life.
Embrace this truth: “Caring for yourself is not selfish.”
Caregiving calls for a level of thoughtfulness and selflessness that emanates from the heart. Did you know that one of the greatest gifts that you can offer as a caregiver is to care for yourself? It may feel counterintuitive, yes. Perhaps your pathway into caregiving is associated with undesirable feelings, such as pain or guilt. Ask yourself this question: How can you provide adequate care for your grandchildren if you are neglecting your basic human needs? You will not be able to ensure that your grandchildren are thriving if you work yourself into exhaustion.
Join a support group.
Grandparents raising grandchildren are more likely to experience isolation from their peers. Become part of an in-person or virtual space where you can connect with, empower, and be empowered by other grandparents who are going through similar experiences. Support groups are also great spaces where you can learn about resources that are available, such as food banks, rental assistance, mental health support, and legal aid. If you have access to a computer, visit AARP’s online forum where grandparents regularly share the joys and challenges of caregiving.
Caring for your physical health can also support your mental health and overall wellbeing. If you are located near a health club, then you may be able to sign up for discounted membership. Many health clubs offer a wide range of fitness classes for individuals and groups. If your schedule or finances do not allow for visits to a health club, then create time and space for an at-home fitness regime. This can include stretching, jogging in place, or dancing. Guided fitness regimes may be available on television and the internet.
Schedule wellness visits.
If you have health insurance, then schedule regular wellness visits with your doctor. If you do not have health insurance, then work through a support group to identify community care spaces that offer discounted health care or a thorough review of what options may exist for you through Medicare.
Pencil in time for rest.
Create time to lie down or simply sit still.
Develop a wellness list.
Write a list of what is important to you. Place this list somewhere that you can see it daily. Your wellness list will help guide your decision making when situations become difficult.
Consider legal guardianship.
Assuming legal guardianship can be a long and costly process that requires assistance from attorneys. However, it can make caregiving decisions, such as enrolling your grandkids in a school or adding them to a healthcare plan, easier.
You may find additional resources by reviewing this special guide for grandfamilies at AARP.org.