Tips for Parenting the Second Time Around
A little over two years ago, Carmela Hill lost her 30-year-old daughter to heart failure. Her family was devastated by this sudden, tragic event. While Ms. Hill was unsure about many decisions she faced, the immediate decision to take in her three small grandchildren wasn’t up for discussion. At age 50-plus, Ms. Hill found herself parenting for the second time.
Almost 90,000 children in Oklahoma are raised by grandparents. That number only includes reported arrangements. Raising them can leave grandparents with mixed feelings, no matter how much they love their grandchildren. This includes joy and happiness but also sadness, grief, a sense of loss and resentment.
Ms. Hill walked me through her experience and offered the following tips about how to succeed at parenting the second time around.
1. Recognize feelings.
Positive sentiments are easy to acknowledge, like the love you feel for your grandchildren, the pride in seeing them grow and learn, and the relief of giving them a stable environment. It’s more challenging to acknowledge guilt, resentment or fear.
Ms. Hill said the most difficult part was trying to resume any normalcy or schedule while allowing space for the unpredictable episodic waves of grief. Therefore, she has created an environment of daily check-ins where they acknowledge how they feel, even when the feelings are dark, deep and heavy. They then discuss how not to let emotions like anger, resentment or fear cause unproductive behaviors toward each other. Then, they zero in on the release part by focusing their energy positively on what they still have that evokes good emotions, like her daughter’s values, great attributes or incredibly funny memories.
2. Create a stable environment.
It may take you and your grandchildren time to adjust to the new living arrangements. Ms. Hill said peace and safety were stabilizing forces that helped reinforce a stable environment.
She said, “We live in different times where all kids having early access to social media through our education facilities takes away my ability to monitor everything outside the home completely. So, I have realized that the tactics I used while raising my kids don’t work for these kids.” She said the home base must be where families mend, heal and thrive.
3. Encourage open communication.
Coping with the new situation is challenging for children and adults, and communicating openly and honestly will help them manage. Remember to listen. Ms. Hill said, “I encourage open communication by working with my tribe to discuss hard things. I lean on our therapists and our family and friends that all miss their mom. We talk about hard things together.”
She said the community approach lets the children know a tribe of people with the same hurts over this loss is invested in their success.
4. Keep their parent’s memory alive.
Taking steps to preserve your grandchildren’s memories of their parent is critical to healing after a loss. Recognizing that positive memories of the grandchildren’s parents are within your control is empowering and helps with the family’s well-being. Ms. Hill said her family has an altar (a sacred space designed to honor her daughter’s memory) in her home, which is dedicated to their mom. Her picture and her favorite things are there. They have a soft fur rug in front of it by the fireplace so they can read, sit and talk with her, or be quiet beside her.
Holidays are tough, so they created traditions that include all the fun things her daughter did with her children, like cooking, baking and spending time outdoors. They also picked a tree in her front yard, and each Memorial Day, they make that tree their memorial garden. “We simply create space to honor and keep her energy around us at all times.”
While losing a child is an indescribable pain, raising grandchildren is a huge challenge that can leave you with mixed emotions. As for Carmela Hill, she did not hesitate to take her grandchildren in. She focuses on the positive and is determined to give her grandchildren a life full of stability, open communication, positive memories of their mother and all the love they can handle.
Dr. Tamecca Rogers is Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Tulsa Technology Center. She is a writer and mom to three boys who love adventures.