The school year can be a tough time for anyone. Students are preoccupied with their studies and extracurricular activities; parents are busy managing their work schedule while juggling the many different practices and carpools. However, students and parents aren’t the only ones assuming this responsibility throughout the school year.
An expert at Baylor College of Medicine says grandparents also can play an important role in their grandchildren’s life during the school year.
“There are almost 13 percent of children in Texas under the age of 18 who are living in a home that is headed by a grandparent,” said Nancy Wilson, social worker and assistant professor of medicine – geriatrics at the Huffington Center on Aging at Baylor. “This statistic doesn’t always mean that there isn’t a parent in the household; however, frequently that is the case.”
There are many grandparents who are responsible for picking up their grandchildren from school and watching them until their parents get off work. This responsibility often can lead to putting their own needs on the back burner.
“Studies have shown that grandparents who watch young children as little as 10 hours a week over time have a higher frequency of both health and mental health problems,” said Wilson. “When we are doing one thing we are not doing something else. Being a caregiver, whether for kids or older adults, means that potentially they are neglecting their own well-being and not necessarily taking responsibility for their own health.”
In general, this responsibility can have consequences in terms of physical and mental health. However, Wilson also says that fulfilling a meaningful role such as caregiving can also provide benefits to a grandparent.
“There are a lot of benefits in terms of emotional well-being,” she said. “The positive of this situation is the social relationships and social support. Grandchildren, who are a source of social support for their grandparents, can be really important because social support is most vital to the well-being.”
Wilson stresses that grandparents who don’t have social relationships with their grandchildren are at greater risk for isolation.
For anyone who is involved in a caregiving role, it is important to recognize that in order to continue and fulfill the duties as a caregiver to remember to take care of yourself first. Grandparent support groups can be a valuable resource, she said.
“Parenting responsibility as we age is challenging,” she said. “There are support groups that will allow individuals to find peers who might be going through the same thing. Having someone to share your common troubles and concerns with can be really helpful.”
Wilson also wants to remind grandparents to do at least one thing for themselves a day that does not involve giving to someone else. “This is important advice for anyone, but particularly for those who have taken on a large responsibility during a stage in their life where they had not anticipated to do so,” she said.
“It’s very important for grandparents to spend time figuring out what their personal limits are and convey those feelings to other members of the family so they don’t end up feeling trapped in the overall situation,” she said.