What do I need to know when grandparents assume responsibility for their grandchildren?


GrandparentsMany grandparents thought they were through parenting only to find they have to parent the second or third generation in their family.

Some of these grandparents are retired or ready to retire. They have worked hard to get to a point where they can sit back and enjoy life. Now they find they have to make many adjustments in their home. That sewing room becomes the baby’s room. Or the home office becomes the tweens room.

On top of everything else, many of these grandparents are single or they are in second marriages and the entrance of grandchildren into the home strains the second/blended family marriage.

In many of these households, the grandparents care for children whose parents cannot or will not care for them due to

  • Substance abuse
  • Illness
  • Death
  • Abuse and neglect of the child
  • Witnessing domestic violence
  • Economic hardship
  • Imprisonment
  • Messy divorce
  • Other family crises
  • Deployment of custodial parent

The loss of a parent to death, divorce, and other situations is a life-changing event. Even though children may have loving grandparents who will take them into their homes, bombings, war, destruction, storms like hurricanes and tsunamis, the death of a parent and divorce affect children for days, weeks, months, and years to come.

Issues of parenting again

There are many issues surrounding grandparents taking in their grandchildren. Grandparents need to become educated about emotional, legal, financial, and medical issues. Here are issues you can share with a grandparent who has assumed parenting responsibilities for grandchildren:

Emotional issues the grandparent may encounter:

  1. Grieving the loss of your own child or the divorce of an adult child takes time
  2. Parental failure and guilt – you may experience guilt that somehow the divorce is your fault because you weren’t a model parent or other reasons
  3. Having to put own wants, such as retirement, on hold
  4. Resentment – not wanting to parent full time again
  5. How to cope with caring for a child at my age
  6. How to deal with being a grandparent, but parenting at the same time
  7. Just wanting to be the “fun” grandparent who gets to send the child home at the end of the day

Legal issues to address

  1. Obtaining legal guardianship – this is a MUST. You might have this child for years without obtaining legal guardianship only to have their legal parent whisk them away at some point. Without legal guardianship, it may be difficult or impossible to register the child for school
  2. Insurance, including health and auto insurance for older teens
  3. The need to obtain a notarized, signed power of attorney
  4. When full, legal custody is obtained, you can access (varies by location):
    -Subsidized health insurance
    -Social services for housing subsidies
    -School enrollment /decision making
    -Prevent incompetent parents from taking the child

Financial issues to be aware of

  1. Usually, there is no child support and this can put a strain on the grandparent’s budget
  2. The cost of child care for working grandparents has to be taken into consideration
  3. Payment for higher education (Learn how to access grants/loans for college)

Important medical issues

  1. Medical insurance may not be offered through your policy, however, in most states, the child can be covered under Medicaid if you have legal guardianship
  2. Most hospitals will not treat a child without parental consent. This is another reason to obtain legal guardianship
  3. Special needs assistance – if there is a mental health diagnosis, you may need to access a therapist or counselor’s help. Additionally, the child may need physical therapy, speech therapy, etc.

Adjustments in the home

As grandparents create space for another person or more people in the household, they become aware of the many issues they will be facing on a daily basis. It will add work! Remind the grandparents that they should look for ways that the children can assume responsibility for household chores and tasks when possible. Among the additional work and responsibilities that will come with the children:

  • More planning and better organization
  • More meals and cooking
  • Additional laundry, ironing, mending, sewing
  • Chauffeuring and car pooling
  • Change in schedule
  • Learning about “new” things such as diapers; the “back to sleep” rule, car seats, etc.

This is not an exhaustive list, but you can see the importance of planning for these tasks and the value of involving the children, when possible.


This article is updated and adapted from an article originally published on the Kids & Divorce blog on  July 6, 2015.

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3 thoughts on “What do I need to know when grandparents assume responsibility for their grandchildren?

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