The important role grandparents play in our lives, and a look at grandparents raising grandchildren during these turbulent times

By Michelle Talsma Everson

 

More than six months into the COVID-19 pandemic and the “new normal,” at least to me, still doesn’t seem very normal. As the parent who both works and facilitates learning from home, I’m stressed, but so grateful for the help of my son’s grandparents.

He absolutely loves going over their house, spending time with them, and doing things he doesn’t do with me. His childhood wouldn’t be the same without them—and their lives wouldn’t be the same without him.

According to multiple studies, there are many benefits for both grandchildren and grandparents to being in each other’s lives. A long-term Boston University study showed that emotional closeness between adult grandchildren and their grandparents help both to be less depressed. Other studies point to grandparents being wonderful for helping to calm grandchildren and playing with them; and another study shares that children raised with a close connection to grandparents often exhibit less ageism when they’re older. A Journal of the American Geriatrics Society study showed that spending time with their grandchildren might improve grandparents’ mental health.

Sunday, September 13 is Grandparents Day—a day to celebrate grandparents everywhere and the impact they have on our lives. With the pandemic though, and COVID-19 posing a great risk to older adults (and children of course), how can you stay connected safely? Here are some suggestions:

Video chats. It seems like Zoom is the most popular video chat method out there, but Facebook messenger, Google Hangouts, and iPhone FaceTime are great to use as well. Schedule a video chat with grandma or grandpa on a regular basis to catch up and connect. For those who may have Zoom fatigue from online school and work, spice up the chats with conversation cards, play time (little kids especially love to show their toys to grandparents!), doing arts and crafts together (make sure everyone has supplies), or even ask grandma and grandpa for homework help.

Become pen pals. Kids love receiving mail. Especially fun for younger children, have grandpa and grandpa and your kids become pen pals – write letters, share memories, send artwork, exchange recipes—bonus, it probably counts as schoolwork, too!

There’s an app for that. Use your favorite apps for keeping in touch and sharing photos. For example, create a private community on social media apps like tinybeans, create a private family Facebook group (if you have older teens who are on social media), make fun and inexpensive photo books on Shutterfly, or add some flare to video chats with Facebook messenger’s filters.

If you do see grandparents in person…

As the top medical experts will note, staying home is safest. But, if you do see grandparents in person, make sure you have a talk first on what to expect and safety precautions to keep in mind (including making sure no one has been sick, or around those who have been sick), including physical distancing (also called social distancing), wearing masks, and washing hands. My son’s grandparents are part of our social bubble luckily, but we still social distance, wash hands, and keep each other informed on any changes in health status. For the latest tips, see the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website at CDC.gov.

Grandparents Raising Grandchildren

One group of seniors who don’t have the option to social distance from their grandchildren are grandparents who are raising them. According to Grandfamilies.org, more than 60,000 grandparents in Arizona are responsible for their grandchildren. Grandparents may end up raising grandchildren for a variety of reasons, including incarceration, drug and alcohol addiction, abuse or neglect, death, or other factors.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, grandparents (who are often older adults and high risk) are now also juggling childcare and helping children with online school.

Arizona Parenting recently reached out to Duet: Partners In Health & Aging, a nonprofit that supports grandparents raising grandchildren, and they shared some insights from grandparents who are parenting a second time around during the pandemic:

“I suffer from COPD and rely on oxygen. Having to wear a mask with this condition whenever I leave the house is a significant challenge. Online schooling is and will continue to be a challenge. My grandson is naturally not very interested in school. I am afraid that online learning will be a struggle for our family moving forward.” – Marsha, raising one grandchild

“I suffer from a disability. The isolation during COVID-19 has been very hard for me. It’s been hard to not be able to see and hug your loved ones. For me personally, online schooling has been great so far. Through online learning, I am able to monitor my granddaughter better. I’m not worried she is going to be bullied like she is in school during in-person learning.” – Jodi, raising one grandchild

“My husband and I both have underlying medical conditions. Since the start of the pandemic, I have found myself a bit paranoid at times, due to fear of contracting the virus. On top of these feelings and fear, my sister had a stroke around the same time, causing even more stress for my family. It has been hard for my grandchildren to adapt to this new normal. It’s been hard for them not being able to see and hug their friends. As for online learning, it has been hard to locate the correct material that the children will need once it starts.” – Victoria, raising three grandchildren

Duet offers support for grandparents raising grandchildren through free-of-charge support groups, legal guidance and assistance, funds for extracurricular activities, information and guided assistance, educational workshops, and outings. With COVID-19 though, the nonprofit has become creative and moved their support groups and activities online.

Examples include:

  • Free support groups in real time over ZOOM at times convenient to grandparents
  • Virtual workshops with topics like “Conscious Communication, Courageous Conversations about Race, and Healthy Boundaries” and “The Importance of Self Care”
  • Activities like BINGO Night, Pictionary and Family Movie Night, complete with free movie and movie gift boxes from Duet

In addition, Duet’s staff still helps grandparents and kinship caregivers over the phone with resource assistance, legal guidance and assistance, and more.

To learn more about Duet and its services for grandfamilies, visit duetaz.org/grandparents-raising-grandchildren.

Additional Resources for Grandparents Raising Grandchildren:

Michelle Talsma Everson is a freelance writer, editor and public relations pro based out of Phoenix. She is also mom to Nicholas, age 10; they are both grateful for their “G-Ma” and “G-Pa” who are the best grandparents in the world (in their humble opinions).

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