You’re used to your granddaughter coming to spend a weekend with you every once in a while, but this time it’s entirely different – this time she is going to stay with you until a court decides your daughter’s fit to care for your granddaughter again.
Kinship care may seem like it won’t be too challenging because you’ve raised children before and the little girl you’re being asked to care for is family. However, most parents don’t have people from the state routinely check in on them or have never had to tell their daughter that she can’t see her own child.
Among the hardest challenges of kinship care is explaining to your granddaughter why she’s living with you instead of her mother.
The answer to this question can be painful for both your granddaughter and yourself. It can be difficult to imagine that your child could be capable of doing something that resulted in her daughter being taken away. It can be even harder for your granddaughter to accept this reality. With the pain that this question may cause, it may take her a long time to ask it, but when she does bring it up, it’s important to have a well thought out answer.
You may think your granddaughter’s too young to hear why she’s living with you, but it’s important to build an understanding at a young age to help her grasp it better as she gets older. Talking about what led to her being in your care can also normalize the situation rather than it making her feel like she’s the only one going through this.
There are ways you can create opportunities for your granddaughter to open up to you. Let her know that you’ll always be there to listen to her and answer any questions. Encouraging her to talk to you about her feelings allows you to gauge how much she knows about her past. Understanding how much your granddaughter already knows will give you an idea of how to respond.
When forming your answer, keep in mind the age of your granddaughter. A response that’s appropriate for a teenager likely isn’t suited for a younger child. No matter how old she is, be honest, but in a way that’s age-appropriate.
For toddlers and young children, use language they understand, while also making sure that what you say isn’t scary or hurtful. If your granddaughter is younger, explain an issue like drug addiction by saying:
“You know how eating too much candy makes you feel sick? There are some things that can make mommies really sick and sometimes mommies need to go to someone who helps them learn how to make better decisions about what they put in their bodies. So while mommy is learning, you’re staying with me.”
If your granddaughter is a teenager, she will likely have a general idea of why she’s with you and may have learned about drug addiction in school, so the response that you give needs to go more in-depth. Phrase your answer to be more appropriate for her age by saying:
“Your mom was breaking the law by using drugs, and a judge decided that the best way to help her overcome her addiction was for her to go to a rehab facility to think about what she’s done and work towards being able to take care of you again. While she’s getting better, I’m here to take care of you.”
Caring for your granddaughter can put a strain on the relationship you have with your daughter. Be sure to phrase your answer to your granddaughter in a way that you’re okay with her potentially repeating to others, including her mother. Don’t make your daughter sound like a terrible person, but rather a good person who made a mistake. It’s okay to let your granddaughter know that your daughter’s mistakes have also left you hurting. Talking to her about your own feelings can help her understand why she feels the way she does about her mother.
Your response can be a valuable learning experience for your granddaughter if you focus it around forgiveness. Reinforce that while her mother may have made mistakes, it’s okay for her to still love and forgive her mother. Let your granddaughter know that her love and support can go a long way in helping her mother work towards coming home again.
One of the challenges of kinship care that your granddaughter may face is the feeling that she’s the reason she doesn’t live with her mother. When talking to her about why she’s living with you, let her know that it was nothing she did that led to her being in your care. This can be an emotionally confusing time for her; reassure her that what she’s feeling is normal and that she can always come to you if she wants help working through anything.
Even though you’re a familiar face to your granddaughter, being removed from her mother was a traumatizing event, and she will likely need time before she’s willing to open up to anyone. Don’t press her to talk about it; she will come to you when she’s ready. In the meantime, continue to work on creating an environment where she feels safe enough to open up to you.
Use the time she spends adjusting to this change to start forming an idea of how you will answer her when she finally does ask the question. No matter how old your granddaughter is or how exactly she came to be in your care, answering questions about her parents will always be one of the touchiest challenges of kinship care because, as you well know, it’s so personal to everyone involved.
With the right response, however, you can turn this painful moment in your family’s history into a bonding experience between you and your granddaughter.
For more ways to talk to youth in care about their parents, click here.