Giving support comes in a variety of forms. For many of us, we are called upon to step in during a crisis. That crisis is frequently related to health but it can be related to divorce, death, anything that tips the scales of a family’s functioning. Most often, the people who are called in are grandparents. Whether they live nearby or pick up to show up, being a source of support for one’s adult children or grandchildren can be invaluable. For many grandparents, they are NOT the first line of defense; they are the “backup team” that comes in. They don’t make the major decisions but they are there to support those decisions (even if they don’t agree with them) and to fill in the spaces that are left while parents are attending to a sick child during a hospital stay or spouses are doing the same for their partner. Those “spaces” have to do with keeping the family together while it feels it is falling apart. It is not about pretending nothing is wrong. It is about moving through the crisis with a steady, positive, loving, even hopeful, attitude.
A longtime friend expressed the following: “Supporting my daughter during these trying times is going to be challenging but I will be able to do it. Yes, it would be great if she could incorporate some kind of mindfulness and / or breathing ritual throughout the day particularly when she finds herself in a dark and scary place. I am not sure she will take that advice from me but I can do it myself and let her know it is helpful. I am also concerned about the other kids who seem to be so anxious since all of this happened to their brother. I want to distract them; and I also want to allow them to experience their feelings in a safe place. I realize that I am that safe place.”
It can also be helpful to teach a child some mindfulness / breathing / visualization techniques during their own “scary” time. For young children I suggest reading, “Sitting Like a Frog,” because of its approachability and accessibility as a basic mindfulness book for children. There are several good online sites filled with excellent mindfulness scripts, activities, and exercises for children of all ages.
“Being at the ready” while adult children or grandchildren are going through highly stressful times means developing patience, flexibility, and often, a thick skin. Understand that plans change in an instant and then change again and again, sometimes back to the original plan that now seems viable. Good manners and respectful tones are often disregarded. It is difficult not to take attacks personally. It is important to remind ourselves that the situation is not our fault and that our kids need to blame someone or vent to someone and we may be the safest target. Remember what we are getting is mostly a result of frustration, fear, confusion, exhaustion, and the feeling of not having control. As the backup team, our primary function is to be steady, calm, able to focus on the here and now; staying away from getting mired in “what if” territory. We can remind ourselves, our children and grandchildren that where we are now is temporary.
We have to keep healthy so we can be there for the family. So when we are not doing our “backup team” tasks, we need to swim, garden, dance, pray, read, be with friends. We can remind ourselves of times when we have dealt with and gone through adversity.
If we keep a little overnight bag in the car, “just in case” the parents are at the hospital later than they expected and the other children need to go to soccer practice or just have someone familiar and loving when they get home from school, it can be enormously helpful.
Letting our friends know what is going on can be helpful just so we can rely on our own support networks. Friends who take care of OUR dog while we are babysitting for the grandchildren, or who pick up OUR cleaning, or who meet up for a quick cup of tea can do wonders…as can a drop-in YOGA class or a walk in the park. These are just small “sanity savers” to try to keep our own boat afloat.