You receive the call that your grandchildren have been removed from their home. And then asked if you want them to live with you.
Most of us knew this was going to happen. And no matter the physical and financial challenges, one way or another, we’ll make it work.
After our home is approved, we bake cookies, turn guestrooms into a nursery or change out bedspreads to age-appropriate bedding, and stuff perfectly folded sweaters from the chest of drawers into plastic bags, replacing them with socks, underwear, diapers, or T-shirts.
When our grandchild/grandchildren arrive we welcome them with open arms and pray that whatever they’ve endured has not left long-lasting scars.
The first few weeks or maybe months go well and then it happens: The child looks the same, walks the same, but the demeanor is far from the quiet, well-behaved grandchild who came
to live with us.
The baby is up all night; the toddler screams day and night, and a teenager is sullen and distant.
What happened? What did we do wrong?
Welcome back into the colorful world of toddlers and teenagers.
If you're a grandparent raising a grandchild or grandchildren, we would love to have you join join a new group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/grandsunite/.
WHO’S TO BLAME?
Does it matter?
Every form I fill out for Luke I’m asked if the child was exposed to drugs or alcohol in the womb.
I find this annoying. If a professional wants to know a patient’s past then pull up the medical records. I’ve seen many children NOT born with drugs in their system who have raging tantrums and, to date, have not met or heard of a teenager that didn’t fry parents' nerves.
The odds are your grandchild will be diagnosed with ADHD or ODD, or some other out-of-control issue when a professional ASSUMES the culprit is that your grandchild was exposed to drugs.
Please. Terrifying stories about toddlers have been written since before the Revolutionary War. PARENT BEWARE, the headlines read, your child is about to become a monster.
The same is true about a teenager whose emotions swing like a pendulum especially when it comes to getting what they want. You’re their best friend when you agree with them but a fire breathing monster when you don’t.
Hello? "…there is nothing new under the sun:”
I highly suggest reading case studies of children brought into the world with drugs in their system versus those who weren’t. You will find that more times than not the security that comes with a stable environment overrides what some quickly diagnose as a preexisting condition.
WE ARE PARENTS, NOT ANGELS AND SAVIORS
It is difficult to wrap already overloaded minds that we have been transported into a “back to the future” scenario. And weren’t offered our new role to coddle. Protect from harm? Yes. Love? Yes. Spoil? No.
I brought Luke home soon from NICU three weeks after his birth. He was born with a rare syndrome. A scary disease that every doctor I’ve met except for specialists who are a hundred miles away know anything about. Many have never even heard of it.
For the first seven months of his life, I transported him around the house with a 40 to 50-foot oxygen cord trailing behind us, only removing the oxygen mask when I bathed him. I was a nervous wreck and kept a watchful eye over him even through the night. If I happened to fall asleep, I’d wake startled and reach over into the cradle next to my bed and put a gentle hand over his tummy to see if he was breathing.
I was lucky, however, as Luke’s Uncle, my middle son, moved in to help care for this helpless little fella. Whenever the heart monitor stopped, or Luke had an elevated temp that could mean his kidneys were failing, Anthony’s calm demeanor (on the outside) helped me through many terrifying moments.
When I left the hospital with a six-pound, some-ounce infant, Luke’s pediatric physician said, “Treat him like a normal child.”
Huh? How do you treat this child like any other child? It took a couple of years before I realized I should have taken his advice.
Soon after Luke turned two the tantrums shook the house and sent the dog into hiding. It was much easier to care for a newborn than a raging toddler. And now, I was left to undo what I’d created.
I read, researched, purchased books such as 1-2-3 Magic, and asked for advice. I turned on music to soothe him, tried to interest him with a toy, or entertained him with my dance moves. But nothing worked.
I tried to ignore, separating myself or placing him in time-out’s and yet the blood-curdling screams resounded through the house. I often thought about the neighbors hearing the high-decibel, pitiful screams and if they wondered what the poor child is going through inside his grandmother’s home.
Exhausted but determined I racked my brain to think of how I could combat this two-foot warrior.
I decided to meet the tantrum square in the face. After all, I reasoned, I might very well be missing an opportunity to let Luke know I’m in the long run no matter how bumpy the road.
Whenever the warning signs began, I stopped what I was doing, got down next to him and, on an eye-to-eye level, whispered over and over again, “It’s okay. We’ve got this. I’m listening. I’m not going anywhere.”
At first, he screamed even louder and I learned to duck quickly when I saw a toy coming in my direction. As time passed he began to trust I wasn’t going to tell him to “Stop right now!” and began to respond to a soothing tone.
When we’re in public and he starts to rev up, I take him to a safe, quiet place; a bathroom, outside, or sit with him in the back seat of my car; somewhere where there is no one else around. I have left groceries in the cart and items on the counter. I not only ignore but could care less about the sideways glances from bystanders as there’s only one important person in the crowd: Luke.
There have been times I take him into his room fighting and screaming. I say nothing as I put this flailing, crazed child down, and then anchor my back against a closed door. Next, I hold out my arms and keep them open and tell him, “It’s okay. We’ve got this.”
It might take five minutes to thirty but eventually, the tears begin to roll and he comes to me for comfort. I put my hand on the side of his head and talk softly until he calms.
When the storm subsides Luke almost always says, “I sorry I cry.” Talk about my heart melting.
This is when I tell him it’s okay to be angry. Everyone gets upset. This is also when we practice breathing techniques: Take in a deep breath, let it out and let’s do it again. He has learned to do this but has yet to connect the dots and understand that taking in a breath will give him time to work through the confusion.
The bottom line is little people don’t know why they’re upset. It could be a toy that doesn’t have batteries; it could be a lack of sleep or over stimulation. They only know something doesn’t feel right.
A pop-up book entitled The Color Monster is a great way to explain emotions to a toddler. Colors are paired with feelings and tell a story of what we feel when we’re mad, or sad, or happy. I highly recommend this book.
Trying to reason with an older grandchild is a much different animal; especially if they didn't have consistent boundaries in their early years.
THINGS MY MOTHER TOLD ME
Growing up I was sometimes called a “bird brain.” Other times I was told that I didn’t have a brain in my head. ”Pause for thought? Not really. Back then, that’s how kids were raised. I was spanked, even told I was going to be spanked so I could think about it before it happened, and told, “keep on crying and I’ll give you something to cry about” or, “if you don’t like what's on the table, fine. You’ll eat when you’re hungry.”
Was my mother abusive? In this day and age, I suppose so. From my point of view, she toughened me up to meet the real world. Sink or swim, baby.
Today many of us tell our children: “You can do anything you want if you want it bad enough,” or, “You don’t like the meatloaf, then what would you like?” I’m guilty as sin on this one.
Somewhere between “bird brain” and “You can do anything,” is the answer. Although there is nothing we can do to create the perfect child.
I have yet to read about or meet the perfect parent who raised a perfect child. And if someone tells you their children are perfect they're in denial. I read a post on Facebook a few weeks ago that said, “If addiction is caused by imperfect parenting every child would be addicted.”
Touché and Amen.
Are rules made to be broken? Of course. All we can do is try to enforce them and hand out consequences that meet the offense.
When a rebellious teen breaks our rules we are angry and rightfully so. But here’s the deal. If you lash out with comments like, “After all I’ve done for you and this is the way you treat me" or, “You’re just like your mother/father,” or “You can’t drive, watch television, and you better come home directly after school and clean your room every day for the next five years,” you could very well erase that which you've tried to build: Trust.
We were asked if we wanted our grandchildren and agreed. No one forced us. No one held a gun at our heads. Our decision. Period. It is only through wisdom, patience, and genuine empathy that we will continue to gain a grandchild's respect.
Here is an article I found entitled 20 things you should never say to a child that I feel is a gentle reminder of how words can be just as, or more, damaging as physical abuse.
"Not fair!” a teen will shout and slam their bedroom door in your face. Music blares and you might hear objects hit the wall after you tell an older grandchild, “No, you’re not going to do that.” Once rebellion starts, I’m a believer in searching phones, computers, closets, and drawers to see what they’re up to. What you don’t know will hurt them is my motto.
As we know, morals and opportunities have changed. Our grandchildren are exposed to a much different world than we were, carrying the fear of a shooter in their school or being caught in a drive-by shooting, along with the increased incidents of a parent taking the lives of those they profess to love.They are exposed to sex and violence and there’s little we can do to protect them from what is on television 24/7.
Keep the communication line open. Invite them to talk about anything and everything, naming topics such as sex, internet dating sites, or someone who is bullying them. And if they do confide in you listen, listen, listen, before responding. Staying calm without being judgmental no matter if they tell you they had sex last night will lead to more open discussions.
This conversation is an absolute must. This ever increasing problem destroys futures, families, and robs people of their lives and our grandchildren are prime targets.
Drug overdose deaths rose from 16,849 in 1999 to 70,237 in 2017. Double the number for the parents who lost a child, add siblings, cousins, and a child who lost a parent and we’re well into the six figures of those grieving a death that didn’t have to happen.
Do we scare our grandchildren to death? Absolutely.
We need to tell them they are high risk and why. We can’t change genes; we can, however, help break this deadly cycle.
I am a huge fan of negotiating.
From salaries to purchasing a car, or deciding to put funds in an IRA instead of going on a vacation, everything is negotiable. So why not start young with this kind of reasoning power where it can be a win-win for everyone?
I started negotiating with Luke when he was two. Every morning he’d start with, “I want a cookie or a sucker.” I’d tell him he couldn’t have a cookie but he could have Fruit Loops or a waffle and, after he ate breakfast, he could have a cookie.
If you do this, then you can do “that" type of reasoning. At first, it was difficult for him to realize his immediate requests were not going to be granted but it didn’t take long for him to “get it.”
I realize this is a simple analogy compared to dealing with a teenager who will blurt, “I’m
going to the concert with Joe Blow, (who you don’t like) “and there’s nothing you can do to stop me.
Now what? They’re right, of course. There is nothing you can do short of tying them to their bed to stop them from doing anything.
Time to negotiate. Start with empathy. “I know how much you want to do xxx, but I’m not comfortable letting you do this. I know you’ve wanted to have a couple of friends stay the night, how about we do that this Saturday night?” Or for a young teenage boy, “I know you want to go to a concert but how ‘bout I buy two tickets for you and a friend and take you to the movie you wanted to see?’ This offer will probably be rejected but give it time and they might reconsider.
Groundhog Days of the past, however, are bound to come knockin' on your door.
“You don’t want me to have any fun! You want to control me! I can’t wait to leave this house and you!”
No matter how many times we face this ugly scene, it always hurts, even though we know the fight for independence is fueled by raging hormones and immature responses.
When the anger rises, take time out and walk away. Even if they threaten to run away stick to your guns It’s a chance we need to take. Living with a teenager who refuses to live within house rules should be addressed in family counseling where everyone has to listen and be heard. The beauty of asking a professional for help is that the burden to make sense out of what a teenager deems “nonsense” is now on someone else’s shoulders.
After you've set the boundaries, catch them the next day and ask if they have a few minutes to chat. If they refuse because they’re still angry, send an email or slide a handwritten note under their door telling them that if something happened to them you’d never forgive yourself.
Come from the heart with no ulterior motive other than reminding them of how very much they are loved.
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