3 minute read
When I first received the news from my son that I was going to be a grandma, my heart leapt with joy. But for a year my emotions were in turmoil as children’s services became involved as, sadly, neither birth parent appeared equipped to make any decisions regarding their daughter’s upbringing and the local authority’s initial plan was for adoption.
However, after a long battle, we won the war and for the last 11 years we have been, in effect, my granddaughter’s parents under a Special Guardianship order. It has been a delightful but challenging journey for us, and we would not change it for the world. Indeed, she is our life, pride, and joy.
Being kinship carer grandparents is different from being “normal” grandparents who can hand the children back at the end of the day, and grandparents who look after their grandchildren while their parents work – as they get to hand them back too.
We are the ones making all the decisions, whether related to education, upbringing or medical. We are the ones dealing with attachment disorder (which seems to affect most children who have had a rocky start in life).
We read up on the effects of past trauma or neglect or simply, as in our case, the separation from birth mum in the early days and being moved to foster care. We know that our charges are unlikely to respond to conventional parenting so many of us make efforts to use “therapeutic parenting” in our approach to our children’s emotional and behavioural difficulties.
We often seek out other kinship carers for support and advice partly because so much has changed since we had our own children: Notably, the education system, how to choose nurseries and schools, the curriculum and so on. Advice has changed, too, in regard to diet and lifestyle.
In common with other Special Guardians and kinship carers, most grandparents have to manage contact with birth parents and extended family. This can often be difficult and tricky as many of the parents have difficulties such as mental health issues and addiction. The situations do vary but have much in common too. It can be difficult for grandparent carers to manage contact if their relationship with their own children is troubled due to these issues.
The main difference is that our children whom we are raising have not been with us from the word go. Our children had to settle with us – whereas our birth children were ours from conception. There was no break in attachment or bonding. This process was natural and most of us as parents didn’t need to think about it.
But just like parenting, grandparent kinship care has its ups as well as downs. The sheer pride and joy when our girl brings home a certificate of achievement, or for the many house points she has gained, the glowing school reports, the praise especially for her artistic work as she has been gifted with an amazing talent for art.
For us, we have just the one grandchild so we can focus on her needs, but all kinship families are different – many are composed of multiple siblings, and the ages of grandparents vary enormously too – from, for example, 35 to over 80 in some cases!
And as mainly retired people (we both have part time commitments), we can also delight in watching her grow and develop. I’ve noticed that grandparent kinship carers and the children in their care are often very close as in our case. So, we have to be careful to maintain a wider network of people especially younger people like my second cousin to help with some aspects – as they say, it takes a village to raise a child! We don’t actually have a village but we are fortunate to have my cousins and my elder son so she has a range of people from different age groups she can relate to.