Have you found yourself taking more care of the grandchildren lately? Has it gotten a point where you’ve found yourself more and more drained after each visit? Have these moments gone from treasured and happy moments to stressful and challenging ones? It is possible you may have Grandparent Burnout, a common experience among grandparents taking care of their grandchildren various times throughout the week. Grandparent Burnout can be characterized by symptoms like irritability, exhaustion, and can even lead to physical symptoms like pain.
What Leads to Grandparent Burnout?
Babysitting grandchildren is a great way to establish and build a healthy, multigenerational bond. It’s beneficial to every party, grandkids and grandparents create a healthy, grounded relationship, and parents get some time off for themselves. But problems can arise when these visits become more and more frequent and can start to take a toll on the grandparents. These situations can become especially difficult when brought on by changes in the parent’s life circumstances like divorce, work, school, or (sadly) death. When grandparents feel, or are made to feel, that they need to assume full or part time responsibility for their grandchildren, many stress factors come into play. It’s this increased responsibility that can lead to grandparent burnout and all it’s complications.
Grandparenting Can Be Stressful Yet Incredibly Rewarding
Although this increased “parenting” on behalf of grandparents can be stressful and challenging, it can be incredibly rewarding when dealt with properly. Of course, establishing a healthy relationship and connection with your grandchildren is beneficial for both, but did you know that it can also be good for your brain health? A 2014 study published in Menopause showed that grandmothers assisting in childcare at least one day of the week did better on cognitive tests. Being in the companionship of a younger generation can also be helpful by keeping you connected to current trends, along with helping you stay more physically and mentally active.
Ways of Bonding Closer with Your Grandchildren
There are many benefits and rewards for all parties involved when grandparents babysit their grandchildren. Now, some might struggle at first to establish a healthy relationship, or might just be looking for new things to try, so here’s some ways to further improve your relationship with your grandchildren.
Share Common Interests
It may seem difficult to establish common interests at first due to generational differences, but don’t fret, finding “your” thing may be easier than it seems. Some classic interests transcend generations like watching sports or movies, making crafts, reading, cooking, and baking. You can always teach and challenge each other with new games to spend time together. Another fun option is taking day trips, whether it’s to a nearby park to explore the outdoors, going to a nearby museum, or maybe even a concert. The memories made together on a day out will bond you over time. The best way to find these common interests is to talk to your grandchildren and really listen. You might be surprised by how much you have in common. Take the time to invest in these common interests and you’ll see your bond grow.
Share Family History
Kids love stories, and you probably have plenty they’ve never heard. Help establish a bond with the broader sense of family by telling them what you know about your family’s history. Share with your grandchildren stories from your youth or maybe even their parent’s youth. They may never meet their great grandparents but it doesn’t mean you can’t tell them about what they were like. Share with your grandchildren what your life was like. Telling them these stories might even help you bond in ways you wouldn’t have foreseen. The stories don’t always need to be so personal, either. You can tell them what it was like to live through some eras. Sharing these experiences will give a new dimension to your bond.
In our current era, families might find themselves living hundreds or even thousands of miles apart from each other, which makes bonding with grandchildren a little harder. For these types of situations, technology is your best friend. With the creation of applications like Skype or Facetime, maybe even Zoom for larger family calls, staying in contact with each other is easier than ever. Use these opportunities to discuss things like common interests, tell family stories, or even listen to your grandchildren talk about their day. If technology isn’t your strong suit, ask your grandchildren to teach you how to operate these apps. This exchange also works to bond you two, because teaching is a great way to connect.
Try One-on-One Time
This option is especially important for grandparents with multiple grandchildren. It may feel difficult to establish a bond as strong as you want when you’re always in a group setting with your grandchildren. Take the time to hang out with each grandchild individually every once in a while. Tailor these moments to each grandchild’s interests to connect on a personal basis and create a lasting bond. When doing this, be conscious of how much time you spend with each grandchild and how often to make sure all your grandkids get an equal amount of your time. This experience is also beneficial to you as you don’t expend as much energy with one grandchild as you would with keeping up with multiple kids.
This might not be the first thing people think of when it comes to creating a better bond with grandchildren, but it’s an essential step. Remember to not compete with other grandparents for your grandchild’s affection and love. There is no need to compete with your grandchild’s other grandparents to be the “best” or “favorite”. This can end up alienating your grandchild or maybe even leading to an unhealthy relationship with the other grandparents. Instead of looking at this as an opportunity to be petty and competitive, look at it as a way for your grandchildren to grow up happy and surrounded by love.
Tired of Grandparent Burnout? Here’s What You Can Do
Although these are all fun and great ideas of things to do with your grandchildren, being responsible and caring for grandchildren too often can be draining. Many can find themselves overwhelmed and can experience burnout. While it is not bad to take an active role in your grandchild’s life, it is important to avoid a burnout. Believe it or not, there are lots of ways for you to easily and efficiently avoid Grandparent Burnout.
One of the most powerful tools for avoiding burnout is having a preplanned schedule. Working with parents to come up with a routine schedule of when you will be taking care of the kids allows you to maintain control of your own time. Don’t overburden yourself by overscheduling, and allow yourself to only care for the kids at a rate that isn’t exhausting. Parents also need to stay on schedule and respect pick up times so you can maintain your own life as well. As a way of respecting your time, parents should also have a Plan B in case you are not available. Establishing and maintaining a routine with support and clear rules will help keep everybody happy.
It’s important to take care of yourself on your time off so you can be healthy and ready for when you do have to care for your grandchildren. Eating right, taking medication, along with regular sleep and exercise are all things that will help your health in the long run. Taking time to yourself to indulge in your hobbies and activities to relax and unwind are necessary, not a luxury. These activities will help you relax, unwind, and recover, which is important to avoid burnout. Also remember you don’t have to do everything yourself. Know your limits and stick within them. Avoid overextending yourself, but learn to take care of yourself on your time to help with recovery.
Having clear communication between yourself, the parents, and the grandchildren is important. Clear communication about your boundaries and rules will help protect everyone and avoid situations of miscommunication. Communicating your limitations will also help everyone understand what can be comfortably done and what cannot. Speaking clearly about what is expected from you and what you expect from others will help create an understanding environment. Allowing all parties, grandchildren included, to clearly verbalize any doubts, concerns, and even positive things like praise will help create this healthy environment. Included in this step, communication should remain open while you have the kids to make sure parents are available if needed. They should be available through text or call if any questions or concerns occur.
As a part of having clear communication, acknowledging feelings is also essential. A huge part of having a healthy environment, processing how you’re feeling is an important step towards recognizing whether you’re on the way to a burnout or not. Checking in with yourself on how you’ve been feeling and accepting all of your feelings, whether good or bad, helps maintain a healthy inner dialogue. Having these check ins with yourself helps later when you have check ins with your children and their children. Everyone should be allowed to state how they’ve been feeling in a clear, non-judgemental environment. If something is not working, work together through the issues to find a solution for everyone. When you are starting to feel overwhelmed, tired, or fatigued, make sure to bring it up early on because if you wait too long you might face a burnout.
Finally, one of the biggest helpers to avoiding Grandparent Burnout is having a support system. Although you are a part of your grandchildren’s support system and their parent’s consider you a part of their support system, that does not mean you cannot rely on them either. Grandchildren can help however they can, be it cleaning up after themselves or following established common rules to help you avoid too much of a burden. Their parents can help you by respecting your time and your boundaries, and by answering any questions you have. Expand your support system by seeking out possible other grandparents for advice, or maybe even playdates to help keep everyone entertained and protected. You are a part of a support system, and it’s okay to seek a support system for yourself as well.