A grandparent’s story
Helping Minds’ grandparents’ group Grandparents Rearing Grandchildren WA Inc has been my lifeline. Just knowing there are other grandparents out there who are in similar circumstances is so important.
As a carer, I look after my 41-year-old daughter, her four children (aged 20, 13, 8 and 2), plus the 20-year-old’s two children aged 3 and 1. At the moment, only my daughter and her 2-year-old son live with me and my husband.
My daughter has always, in my opinion, been bipolar; she is either very hyper or depressed. After a traumatic episode in her mid-teens she was put on anti-depressants. She found it too hard when taken off them, and turned to illegal substances to cope with life.
We faced our hardest time about eight years ago, when my daughter was on ice. She had paranoid episodes; after each episode, we were given custody of the three younger children, but after being discharged from hospital she would always regain custody of the children. This went on for a couple of years, until she had a major paranoid attack and trashed part of her house while the children were there.
In the end, I phoned the two boys’ father to agree with his demand for custody (he was newly out of prison but lived with his close, ethnic family). The eldest child, a girl who had left school after year 7, was put in a hostel run by Youth Futures. I maintained a very close relationship with my granddaughter, and my two grandsons came to me on alternate weekends and half the school holidays so we could see them and they could maintain a relationship with their mother.
After a year of this arrangement, my husband and I gave ourselves a much-needed holiday. At this point my daughter was “couch surfing” – and still very much into illegal substances – while my granddaughter was pregnant. We went to Europe for three months, which forced our daughter into rehabilitation at Cyrenian House, as she realised that without us she had no hope of even seeing her children again. I cannot speak highly enough about Cyrenian.
That was three years ago; my daughter is now clean and hasn’t lapsed once. She has a good relationship with her children, the boys still live with their father but visit often. My granddaughter also has anxiety and depression; I care for my great grandchildren regularly, as needed by my granddaughter. My granddaughter is now finishing a Cert IV in social work; she wants to help children who had childhoods like herself. Her mental state is much helped by antidepressants and her self-esteem is boosted by her studies and her job as a carer.
During the periods we had the three children full time I was still working, but my husband had retired due to ill health. He was not supportive at that time of us having the children and it was an impossible situation. Fortunately, I discovered Grandparents Rearing Grandchildren WA Inc through HelpingMinds. It was so fantastic to find I was not alone in my predicament. I cried at the first few meetings, it was so helpful to talk to people who really understood and could offer practical advice.
Although I no longer have the children full time, I still enjoy the support group. As a grandparent in these circumstances, you not only have to deal with traumatised children, but also with your own child who has caused the situation – as well as try to share yourself with any other children and grandchildren you may have.
Of course, there are lots of circumstances that cause grandparents to step in: death of a parent, disability of a parent, imprisonment of a parent, but the most usual cause is drug abuse of the parent. HelpingMinds provides respite in the form of retreats, pamper days, seminars and annual holidays.
The support group for grandparents showed me how very many people are in our position. We support 60 families and 130 grandchildren, the grandparents are aged between 49 and 86, the grandchildren from six weeks to 18 years (when they stop being “children”).
I had a bad year last year and didn’t feel I was coping, especially with my granddaughter’s new baby. The family, it seemed to me, depended solely on me and my role as carer. I also was drinking too much. I made a decision at Christmas to change my life. I am now not drinking, and am at the gym every morning. I will always be there for my family as long as I can be, but it is unhealthy for them to rely on me so much.
[As told to Lisa Shearon]
Friday Mental Health Tip
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