Whether a child is born with a disability or becomes disabled later in life, his special needs are likely to affect the whole family. Grandparents are no exception. In fact, they can play a vital role in providing support for their adult children and care for their grandchild. But navigating this sensitive terrain can be challenging. Here are some tips to make grandparenting a child with a disability as rewarding as possible.
Recognize the need to grieve
Typically, parents and family members aren’t prepared for the birth of a child with a disability. Likewise, an accident or the diagnosis of a developmental disability may come as a shock. Though grandparents may be called on to provide various kinds of support right away, acknowledging feelings of disappointment, fear and anger is critical before they can move forward and attend to the many tasks at hand. Naturally, adult children who are the parents of a child with a disability, also need time to grieve. Though grandparents may wish to take away an adult child’s pain, in this case, that’s not possible, says grandparents.com. “You can’t change what has happened to your grandchild. But you can offer your support to the child and to the rest of the family.”
Do some research
Once you know about a grandchild’s diagnosis, do some homework to learn as much as possible about her special needs. This will help you to understand how you can be most helpful. When doing research however, avoid internet sites and other unreliable sources. Instead consult with your grandchild’s parents and health care providers for resources that will provide accurate and current information and advice.
Respect parents’ wishes
Grandparents don’t always agree with the way their adult children are raising their grandchildren. Though you may be tempted to speak up when you feel that your children are doing things wrong, it’s important to respect parents’ wishes. Says AARP: “Don’t tell your kids how to raise their children. Avoid judging their parenting style and bite your tongue unless they ask for your advice. If you disagree with their decisions — and you will, sooner or later — keep quiet. Your job is to be the grandparent, not the parent. Instead, respect their parenting efforts and look for reasons to compliment them.”
Join a support group
Being with other grandparents who are dealing with the stressors associated with having a grandchild with disabilities can be helpful, especially if you provide a good deal of your grandchild’s care. “You will feel better when you can share your feelings with people who know what you’re going through,” says Grandparents.com. “You can learn more about the disability. And you may pick up some tips on how to support your family.”
Love your grandchild
Regardless of the severity of his disability, your grandchild has many gifts, and he will undoubtedly enrich your life. The poem “Welcome to Holland” by Emily Perl Kingsley, beautifully sums up the experience of being the parent or grandparent of a child with a disability.