Support Groups for Grandparents

Grandparents need a safe place in which to discuss what their expectations were and how things are different now.

Jamie Giesbrecht April 22, 2019
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Recently, my husband spoke at a local mission’s fest called Mission Vision. He talked about our journey in having two biological children, and then adopting three children: two from foster care and one from a direct placement adoption (that is, the birth mother was not working with an adoption agency, and the Ministry of Children and Family Development did not have guardianship of the child). He was quite nervous about this particular talk, and not because he hadn’t done it before.

Tyler and I have spoken at other mission’s festivals, as well as a homeschool conference, about adoption, but we had always done it TOGETHER before. This time around, we have our newly adopted son, who was just 5 months old at the time of Mission Vision. We also have a soon-to-be 11-year-old, a 9-year-old, 7-year-old, and 5-year-old. Several of our children have special considerations, and we are also homeschooling (grade 5, 4, 2, and kindergarten), and running our small farm. Spring is lambing season and chick hatching season for us! The final piece in deciding that Tyler would speak alone this time around was deciding that we would have a booth for our local support group, “Hearts for Adoption and Foster Care.”

While many members from our group would be available to help man the booth, I felt called to commit to being there during most of the weekend. I always find I get engaged in deep, meaningful conversations about adoption at such events, and I always find that there are certain people that it was clear we were meant to reach out to. I was looking forward to taking a back seat and being off stage…and wrangling five kids, too!

I knew I had made the right decision as soon as we started setting up the booth on Friday night. Leaving the house was a nightmare, (Why is no one wearing socks? Where is the diaper bag, I just had it right here?! We are missing someone! Where did Mem go off to now?) and my kids quite promptly set to fighting once we got the venue. I am still trying to decide whether that is better or worse than a few years ago when I lost several children at the same event, and upon looking around, noticed several other booths were wobbling and wavering around. At least two kids of mine were subsequently found crawling underneath the table-clothed booth tables, bumping them as they went. Either way, I was excited to sit back and enjoy listening to my husband speak.

It did not last long! Something unexpected happens at each conference.  This time, I had just settled into the jam-packed standing-room-only seminar room, and Tyler had just gotten past his emotional entry into why and how we got into foster care and adoption when the beautiful child on my lap had enough and started to create a scene. I was recognizing that she is old enough to struggle with some of these adoption themes. The door to the room kept popping open, and people were peering in to see if there were any more seats, so I decided it was best to exit anyway.

My struggling child and I wandered the halls for a bit, checked on the baby we had left with the nursery attendants, and peered through the classroom windows to see how Tyler was doing. We got a snack from the host table, and I waited eagerly at the doors for the session to end. I couldn’t wait to tell Tyler how proud I was of him to see him up there speaking. The seminar ended, but only one or two people came out. Instead, something quite beautiful happened. As it would turn out, Tyler would spend THREE HOURS talking with people that had been touched by his seminar.

Grandparents and Adoption

I had a similar experience. I had person after person come up and give me a hug, shake my hand, and ask if I had time to talk. This thrilled me. In a world where there are approximately 143 million orphans, according to UNICEF, I consider it a part of my mission in this world to spread the need for foster and adoptive homes. (Many people are unaware of the staggering number of children waiting for forever homes—30,000 children in Canada alone!) But something came up that I had really and truly never thought about before.

A woman was talking to me about their infertility and both her and her husband’s vacillating readiness and unreadiness to adopt. Then, she mentioned something: their parents’ journey of loss of potentially not having grandchildren, or at the least, biological grandchildren. I kind of stopped. Was this a thing? Of course, it is a thing! It is a thing I had not considered, and I instantly chided myself for failing to see the emotion here. I have prided myself on being understanding and empathetic regarding adoptions issues, so how did I miss this one??

Tyler and I were able to have two biological children before, but for medical reasons, we decided not to have any more pregnancies. Our parents had biological grandchildren as a result, so maybe this is how I skipped this issue. Since Mission Vision, I have spent some time considering the implications for potential grandparents when it comes to adoption. When this topic came up, I knew I wanted to write about it.

There is always a risk in taking on or discussing a topic outside of your experiences. I have not yet been a grandparent—in fact, my eldest child is just about to turn 11. So, I tread lightly. But, I do know the joy that grandparenting brings to the people around me.

Just this morning, I had a grandma in our church turn and ask to hold our baby. She said she just couldn’t resist him, and that she wanted to fill up on some baby snuggles. All around me, I feel like I see proud grandparents. I read somewhere, years past, that even parents who were not great parents can sometimes have a second chance (disclaimer: when it is safe and appropriate) as grandparents and can do a much better job the second time around. This means that even for some fractured families, grandchildren may provide hope and reconciliation and restoration—a chance to build up.

When I look at these possibilities around me, and hear all the comments about the wonderful stage of life called grandparenting, I know that right now, at the age of almost 35, that I cannot wait to be a grandmother. I cannot wait to offer to take my grandchildren for my kids, so they can go on date nights, go shopping alone, or just have a quiet afternoon. I cannot wait to have the grandkids sleep over, and I cannot wait to spoil them!

I think, too, a great deal of wisdom and peace comes with age. I certainly hope that once I am grandparent-aged, I will be resting in the assurance of a life well lived, serving and loving others, passing on knowledge, wisdom, and love to my next generation through my grandchildren. Now how would I feel if grandchildren were not to come? That would be very hard. It would be a loss that would need to be grieved. I can sense that I would not want to push my children toward adoption, but I would want them to know that it is an option.

As a matter of fact, the woman I spoke to after Tyler’s seminar was quick to say their own parents had not pushed and not made them feel bad. That is beautiful. I would want my kids to know that my love for them would not change and could not change, regardless of anything, let alone if they had children or how many. But that would not change my own need to grieve what is almost a rite of passage as we age, that rite of grandparenting.

Another thought I have is that I know that our adoptions have completely surprised some family members. I acknowledge that our special needs children and chaotic schedules as a foster and adoptive family have probably greatly disrupted things at times. I know that some of our foster placements have more than just disrupted a family dinner at a holiday. I know that we have canceled plans last minute, brought extra people last minute, been late, and have been far away, mentally, from family gatherings at times because of what we were going through.

Support Groups for Grandparents

To switch gears and imagine how that would be as a grandparent does give me a new perspective. Although I advocate for adoption always, I acknowledge that for some grandparents, this chaos, this madness called reckless, relentless love (especially if you are parenting a child with reactive attachment disorder) that is often not reciprocated by the children you are trying desperately to help, might be, well, TOO chaotic. WE choose adoption but our extended families did not. They may be supportive, or they might think you’ve gone crazy. Either way, grandparents (and for that matter, any extended family members), might struggle. They might need to reach out to support groups for grandparents.

The idea of support groups for grandparents is really quite marvelous. I think that because grandparenting is such an anticipated life event for many people, it makes so much sense to have a safe place in which to discuss what your expectations were and how things are different now. This might be knowing you will not have grandchildren; it might mean struggling to accept grandchildren that are not related to you (more on this in a moment), or it might mean struggling to attach and accept a child from a hard place.

I mentioned struggling to attach to grandchildren that are not related to or biologically yours because this IS a thing. A family member mentioned to us, gently and kindly, years ago, that it felt awkward and difficult to see adopted children as, immediately, family. I was not upset, and I appreciated the transparency. Of course, the child should never feel this, and they should not be left out or treated differently at any time. If this happens, it is up to the adoptive parents to put a stop to it immediately. But an honest conversation about these feelings is helpful.

In this case, I think a support group would be phenomenal. In our case, time and just watching the children grow healed any unease, although behavioral challenges and the differences required in parenting children from hard places have definitely made the journey different for some family members than they imagined. (Behavior coming out of attachment disorders can be highly chaotic, aggressive, and challenging—let’s be honest, even as primary caregivers, we struggle!) This is where struggling to attach to these children comes in. Grandparents may have the best of intentions, but children coming from a past of neglect and abuse may reject all forms of love. So, what next?

Support groups for grandparents would be ideal places to get information about children from hard places, children with various special needs, and children with behavior challenges. A support group would also help people to deal with the emotions of changes to the grandparenting journey, and it would be a place to meet other people who know what you are going through.

Sadly, I am completely unaware of any such group in my area and even my region. I think this is a huge opportunity for a need to be filled. You could check with your local Child and Family Services office, adoption agency, adoption social worker, adoption/foster care advocacy group, or church on the availability of support groups for grandparents first. If there is something in place, great!

Make the time needed to go. Make it a priority, especially if you are struggling. If there is nothing in your area, think about what you could do to get a group going. It does not have to be fancy. A group can meet out of a home or even in a park in warmer months. A coffee shop or local restaurant might be great too. Size does not matter—where two or three are gathered, great things can happen! Do not let a small group discourage you.

A low budget or no budget does not have to be an issue. Research potential books, video series, Bible studies, or seminars online. See if your local library can bring in the book or video you need via inter-library loan. There might be just the right podcast or Facebook group for you. You might find a resource in a nearby city, and make a day of it. You might just sit and talk over coffee. Gathering over food to fellowship together is so powerful. Bake something yummy, and invite a friend over that will hear your heart and encourage you. The point is you can pull together whatever you need.

You might consider seeing a counselor if you feel overwhelmed. Adoption is an important issue. The heritage of our children is powerful. Our families need the connectedness of generations of wisdom and love. One blessed family I know has the grandparents of the family come over every Friday morning. It was the grandparents’ idea. They come to pray over this large and growing foster and adoptive family, and then they play with the children so the foster and adoptive mom can run errands alone. What a blessing! Grandparents, we need you. You are valuable! You have much to give. I encourage you to support each other in this probably unexpected journey.

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Jamie Giesbrecht

Jamie Giesbrecht is a stay at home mama to 3 adopted and 2 biological children. When she is not homeschooling the kids, she can be found seeking adventures with her family in the Yukon and Northwest Territories, hunting, fishing, camping, or trail riding the horses to town for some snacks. Her hobbies include cross stitching, sewing jingle dresses for powwow, reading, and horseback riding as often as she can. Jamie married her high school sweetheart and best friend, Tyler, and together they enjoy watching the kids hatch ducklings and chicks, shear sheep, race around the yard on their horses, and raise pigs on their small farm in rural Northeastern British Columbia, Canada. Jamie is passionate about adoption and has been a foster parent on and off and in between adoptions since 2011.


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