Taking Care of Yourself, Too!

Raising grandchildren is hard work. If you take better care of yourself, you can take better care of them.

Think for a minute about all the sacrifices you've made for the grandchildren you are raising. You've gone without sleep for them; devoted your spare time to them; given up your social life for them; maybe even taken a job to support them.

You love your grandchildren. You're happy to have them in your home. You have no doubt that you're doing the right thing.

But, admit it: You're tired and stressed. You may feel lonely and isolated. You might even be a little depressed. All these feelings are normal. And they are a sure sign that it's time to start taking care of yourself, because if you get sick or burned out, what will the kids do?

Think of it this way: Taking better care of yourself means taking better care of your grandchildren.

Emotional Strains

No one said that raising grandchildren would be easy. Besides being a lot of work, it can make you feel many emotions that you don't want to feel.

You might feel angry or resentful. You looked forward to this time in your life. You had big plans. Now those plans are on hold. You just want to be a grandparent, not a parent. You want to spoil your grandchildren, not discipline them.

You might feel guilty. Maybe you feel responsible because your son or daughter can't take care of your grandchildren. This situation is not your fault. But it's easy to fall into the trap of blaming yourself.

You probably feel a little stressed out. You have so many decisions to make right now. Are you making the right ones? Are you doing what's best for your grandchildren?

You may feel lonely. Your old friends may not understand what you're going through. And you don't have much in common with the parents of your grandchildren's friends.

Some days, these feelings can seem overwhelming. Don't give up. Instead, try some of the following coping tips.

1. Face Your Feelings. Don't feel guilty about how you feel. Every grandparent caregiver feels the same way at one time or another. It may help to talk about your feelings with someone else — a friend, a relative, or a professional. This will help you make peace with your feelings. Then you can get on with your life.

2. Guard Your Health. You'll feel better — and do better as a caregiver — if you pay attention to your own health. Get regular check-ups. If you smoke, stop. Try to eat better. Talk to your doctor if you are feeling depressed or stressed out. He or she may be able to help. Most important, get some exercise. There's no better way to relieve stress than to take a brisk walk, play a game of tennis, or go to a fitness class. It helps you let off steam. It improves your mood. It can even give you more energy. Can't get away from the kids? Take them with you. They could use some exercise too!

3. Take a Break. Every so often, you need to rest and recharge your battery. Ask a friend or relative to watch the kids for a few hours. Can't afford a babysitter? Offer to watch the grandchildren of another grandparent caregiver. Then ask that grandparent to watch your grandchildren. You'll both get a break — and it won't cost a dime.

4. Ask for Help. There are plenty of people out there willing to lend you a hand.
Consider connecting with a faith community. Your church, temple, or synagogue can be like a family to you. Congregation members help each other in times of need. And many faith-based organizations offer services, like child care and transportation, which you may find useful. Or join a support group. Support groups are the best place to meet other grandparents like you. You can share your feelings with people who really understand. You can make new friends. And you can get information and services that will help you cope with your new parenting role.

5. Have Some Fun. Make an effort to put some fun back in your life. You'll feel happier and healthier. And your grandchildren will enjoy being around you. And remember, you don't have to be a daredevil to enjoy yourself. Read a good book, plant a garden, or join an exercise class. Take up an old hobby. Surf the internet. Find something that makes you smile — and do it. You'll feel better, and your grandchildren will thank you for it.

This article originally appeared on aarp.org. Read more ways to manage stress here.

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