Grandparents often report that once they start raising their grandchildren, they do not have time for themselves anymore. Caring for themselves and doing the things they once enjoyed are moved to the backburner, and their lives begin to revolve around the grandchildren. While the drive to put grandchildren first is admirable, this can end up being very harmful for both the grandparent and the grandchild. Stress and negative emotions begin to build, resulting in physically and emotionally distressed grandparents. Unfortunately, grandchildren often feel this distress also, since the negativity can spill over into grandparent interactions with them. As a result, both grandparents and grandchildren become distressed.
This distress for both the grandparent and the grandchild helps indicate how important it is from grandparents to practice self-care. When grandparents practice self-care, this not only benefits themselves, but the benefits often translate into better care for their grandchildren. Rather than interacting with grandchildren from a burnt-out place of frustration and exhaustion, well cared-for grandparents are able to better access the joy, positivity, and energy they receive from self-care when interacting with their grandchildren.
Another way to conceptualizing the importance of grandparent self-care is through the analogy of airplane oxygen masks. On airplanes, flight attendants always state that parents should put their masks on first before assisting children with theirs. Airlines are not trying to say that they value the lives of parents more than children, but rather, they are stating that in order for us to help other people, we must make sure that we have helped ourselves first. A parent who faints from lack of oxygen halfway through putting on their child’s mask has become unable to help both herself and the child; however, if the parent puts her mask on first, she can easily help the child.
So you may be asking, how do we avoid getting to this negative and unhealthy place? Or, if we’re already there, how do we get out of it? There are many different tools and strategies that grandparents can utilize to avoid this stress and negativity; however, one of the first steps is to recognize that grandparent caregivers need care too. This recognition can help grandparents give themselves permission to go out and seek the things they personally need to feel good without feeling as much guilt for doing something for themselves rather than for their grandchildren. This recognition helps grandparents remember that their own needs are important too! Meeting even some of these needs can help grandparents regain some of their joy, positivity, and energy, making them feel happier and healthier.