5 Things Grandparents Need To Know When They Parent Their Grandchildren

Here are some basic takeaways grandparents can benefit from when it comes to taking on full-time parenting duties when their own kids can not.


Whether it’s every weekend or once every few years, most grandparents enjoy visiting and spoiling their grandchildren. But instead of casually caring for them over summers or babysitting during date night, more and more grandparents are raising their grandkids.

So here are some basic takeaways grandparents can benefit from when it comes to taking on full-time parenting duties when their own kids cannot.

1Un/Official Fostering

There are many ways grandparents come to care for their grandkids.

Sometimes making things official creates hurdles and puts the children in less than ideal situations.

Legal guardianship has to be accepted by a family court judge, and something about the grandparents’ circumstance or history may cause the request to be denied.

Fostering a grandchild requires the grandparent take and pass classes and background checks. Before these steps have been completed, or if any part of the process fails, the child may be placed with foster parents who are strangers to the family.

This can cause emotional and sometimes physical trauma to the child, as children are 8-10x more likely to experience abuse when living with non-biologically related caregivers.

So many parents who are unable to care for their kids leave them with their grandparents to be cared for unofficially, or outside of legal jurisdiction.

This can also invite complications, however.

Legal guardianship is typically required to register a child in school. And unofficial caregivers usually take on the financial burden and are not entitled to help from the state the way official foster parents are.

This can put an undue burden on a retiree on a fixed income, or force an elder back into the workplace to make ends meet.

2Sole and Shared Custody

Grandparents with sole custody of their grandkids have a more straightforward situation than those who share custody with the children’s parents.

In a sole custody situation, the grandparent can set up the household to run as they see fit, without the interference or interjection of the parent. The child’s upbringing is more stable, and they receive a single message.

Being raised in two households can send the child mixed messages. Rules, boundaries, and expectations in one house may not be upheld in another.

One parental figure may challenge, reject or attack the other’s decisions or intent. This dissonance can destabilize the child and cause friction in the family.

3Temporary and Permanent Assistance

Similarly, grandparents with permanent custody can create a stable environment with only their input to influence their charges.

The children don’t have to worry about traveling back and forth, feel anxiety or discomfort in an unfamiliar home, or disappointment from missed visits.

Temporary arrangements are subject to possible change every few months and can leave children and guardians alike feeling unsettled and stressed.

Preparing for change frequently, whether it happens or not, can overwhelm a child who is already dealing with adult issues along with typical childhood troubles.

Even if things stay relatively stable for several years, having grandparents and children adjust so drastically will not be an easy process. And the transition may be more complicated than predicted.

4Why Grandparents Parent

Grandparents take over parenting duties for a variety of reasons. While some step up out of love or proximity to the child who needs looking after, circumstance and necessity can also put grandparents in dire straits and force them to come forward when they are unwilling or unprepared.

Parenting out of a sense of obligation can cause resentment and hurt the relationship with a child who is already vulnerable and destabilized.

Grandparents may also step in when the parent is impaired mentally, physically or due to addiction, absent by choice or incarceration, or lost to tragedy.

5Avoid These Parent Traps

Parenting grandparents need to be role models and make decisions their grandkids will look up to and respect as they get older. They shouldn’t make it hard for the children to see their biological parent(s).

Neither should they badmouth the parent(s) to the children, even if it is fair and warranted.

Legally this could constitute parental alienation. It can also cause emotional harm and affect the children’s relationship with them and their parent(s) as they grow into adults.

Parenting grandchildren is challenging, but can also be rewarding.

Protecting children from the most harmful consequences of the choices or circumstances of their parent(s) is paramount.

Instead of leaving their fate up to chance in the state system, taking on the roles and responsibilities of a parent means grandparents know their grandkids’ location, they can control their quality of care, and they can affect their education and adjustment.

It takes a village to raise a child. And sometimes the elders of the village have to step up.