The Disability Forum: Grandparents

Mary Etta Tubbs, B.A.

Pathways, Inc.

This article is not intended to diagnose, only to provide education to increase public awareness and sensitivity.

“When I try to talk to my parents about Julie’s problem, they say: ‘Don’t worry, she’ll grow out of it.  Feed her these vitamins. Give her firm discipline. Go to this doctor.’ They make it all harder.”

“Throughout the whole first year my mom was great.  She came over and got me out of the house; she made me stop feeling sorry for myself. She babysat so my husband and I could go out together.”

As we see in these examples, a child’s grandparents can make things a whole lot easier or a whole lot harder.  It is important to remember that grandparents go through the same grief states we do.  However, accepting the reality is even harder for them because they are removed.  For them, the bonding process that helps parents learn to see the child instead of the disability happens more slowly.  Or the disability may not be visible, and they may think you are using your child’s “problems” as an excuse for something else.

In some ways, grandparents have a harder job because they feel double grief.  They grieve over the grandchild’s disability, but they grieve even more at their own child’s pain, and a sense of inability to help.  Ironically, this second level of grief often leaves them unable to offer the support that their son or daughter needs so much.  If the disability is hereditary, they may feel guilt, also.

Parents can help grandparents accept their grandchild’s disability.  It helps to recognize that your parents don’t share your intimate perspective and being removed from your child; they may feel the same ignorance and fear you felt at first. They need to be educated to overcome these feelings. Some parents find it helpful to give the grandparents literature or take them to doctors’ appointments with them.

Share your needs and feelings with the grandparents when you feel they can handle hearing them.  The best time to do this is when things are fairly stable, not in the middle of a crisis.  Source:  Utah Parent Center

Pathways, Inc. is a family mental health clinic that provides relationship, individual & family counseling, Psycho-Social Rehabilitation, and service coordination. For more information, call 208-878-3350.



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