It takes a grandparent: How nurses can support grandparents raising grandchildren

Cheryl Portner, RN

Cheryl Portner, RN


By Cheryl Portner, RN, MSN
Vice President, Staff Development & Training/Nurse Executive

Breathe deeply. Can you smell the fresh batch of chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven or the apple strudel cooling on the counter by the window? I was very fortunate growing up. When I was really little, my grandparents moved into the house next door.

We shared a driveway, and I had two backyards to play in. And there always was something delicious cooking. When I was 8 years old, my mom went back to work and my grandparents became more involved in my life, as well as the lives of my two brothers, as caregivers. They’d watch us after school or during long, lazy summer days. They provided a second home that was a welcome and safe haven. We were lucky; my brothers and I were not sick very often and I have fond memories of a happy childhood. It was a little unusual back then to have grandparents so involved in child care, but times have changed, and today it is not uncommon.

When I was growing up, most moms stayed home while dads went to work. In today’s economy, however, both parents are often forced out into the workforce to support the household. As a result, grandparents find they must take on important and supportive roles in the family — including providing meals, baby-sitting, attending school events and accompanying grandchildren to dental check-ups, or to the doctor’s office when they’re sick. If one of the children has a long-term chronic illness, the cost of insurance and care increases the financial burden and grandma and grandpa may have to provide supportive, even complex, care.

Today’s grandparents are being called upon to meet higher demands in the care of their grandchildren — including those who are sick or have special needs. Often, they communicate directly with the children’s healthcare providers, and patient education and discharge plans more frequently include these special members of the extended family. Luckily, the list of resources that can help support grandmom and granddad is growing. Becoming primary caregivers at an older age isn’t easy.

Grandparents often need to seek help to learn how to balance their own health and care needs with those of their grandchildren, since stepping into this role can be exhausting and trying on the body, mind and spirit. Nurses, especially pediatric nurses, are often in a perfect position to provide support and resources to these grandparents. After all, they have more on their plates than chocolate chip cookies and apple strudel.

Continuing education resources:
Child care quandary: When to exclude an ill child
Picky eaters
Spare the rod? Children & corporal punishment
The toddler with excessive juice intake
Parental stress and family-centered interventions in the NICU

Read this feature for more information:
Modern families: Grandparents often take the lead in caring for their offspring’s children

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One Response to It takes a grandparent: How nurses can support grandparents raising grandchildren

  1. Excellent article. There are so many grandparents who have stepped into the role of primary caregivers. As nurses, it is necessary that we support this type of family and assist them in being successful.

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