Big concepts like love and community are rooted in the idea that we’re willing to help others even when it hurts us. The idea is called altruism, and it’s a big part of what makes a family work. Kinship caregivers, like foster and adoptive parents, are expected to be altruistic. But they face a unique challenge – in order to do what’s best for a child in their care, they often risk damaging their relationship with their own child. Setting boundaries as a kinship provider is a big challenge because when it’s all in the family, doing the right thing can really hurt.
Picture this: Your phone rings unexpectedly late on a weeknight. You pick up and find out it’s
Child Protection and Permanency. They let you know that your daughter, who is in her early 20s, is struggling with an addiction. As a result, her two sons, whom she loves very much, are taken into state custody.
“Would you be willing to take your grandchildren into your home?” they ask.
Without a second thought, you agree and so take the first steps on an intensely personal journey, not knowing when, where or how it might end.
What you do know is that you’ll have to tread carefully – your grandchildren’s future, your daughter’s health and your personal emotional well-being all hinge upon your ability to set boundaries between what everyone wants and what is best for them. Deciding between the two will take a heavy dose of discretion.
Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to help determine how boundaries can be set:
How will I handle seeing my daughter without her child?
Having to take your granddaughter into your custody while your daughter gets back on track can put lots of strain on your relationship. Time normally spent together, like during holidays, can get awkward quick. Outside of mandated visitation, it’s up to you to decide how involved your daughter can be with her child.
Are my kinship children’s parents able to act like the role models my kinship children deserve? Everyone goes through rough patches in life. Some handle them much better than others. If your kinship children’s parents are unable to compose their emotions, it will most likely reflect negatively on your kinship children. Think about the type of behavior that led to your daughter losing custody of your granddaughter. Was she violent? Neglectful? Is she battling an addiction? Different harmful behaviors will mean setting boundaries in different ways. Think also about the episodes in your daughter’s life that may have driven her to the behavior that led to her losing custody. Set boundaries for yourself so that you can avoid those episodes the second time around.
How is my relationship with my daughter?
You can’t choose family. Sometimes the game of chance leaves us with love and friendship that lasts a lifetime and sometimes it presents us with monumental challenges. It won’t be the challenges themselves, but how you handle them, that will help decide the fate of your family. Obviously it’s a big (and very stressful) responsibility, so while doing your best to manage the emotions of both your daughter and your granddaughter, be sure to remember that you cannot please everyone all the time. What you can do, however, is carefully weigh their best interests and act on them to your best ability.
How old are my kinship children and are they on pace developmentally?
For young children, it is your responsibility to make decisions that will set them on a path towards happiness and health. As children become teens and teens approach adulthood, they begin to make their own decisions about how their relationship with their parents will or won’t progress.
Setting boundaries for people you care about will be difficult. Like so much of life, it’s all about balancing short-term comforts and long-term success. If you can get the balance right, your kinship children and their parents will have you to thank for the rest of their lives. Even if your daughter or granddaughter is unhappy with the process, you can rest assured that you did your best and always kept their best interests in mind.