Mental Health Issues of Grandparents Raising Grandchildren

Family Caregiving September 23, 2015 Print Friendly and PDF

Grandparents who step in during a family crisis to rear their grandchildren are often unprepared for their new role. Grandchildren frequently come to live with them bearing scars of abuse and/or neglect that can result in emotional, learning, and behavior problems. Grandparents may have ambivalent feelings about taking on parenting a second time around. This is because they need to make a shift from being grandma and grandpa to being mom and dad. Additionally, navigating the many educational, legal, social, and health care systems can be daunting. It is not surprising, given the complex stressful and often tragic circumstances faced by grandparents rearing grandchildren, that these caregivers experience more symptoms of depression than grandparents who are not rearing grandchildren.

Stressors reported by many grandparents are lack of access to support services and financial issues. Many grandparents are retired or nearing retirement and live on limited incomes. When a grandchild enters the household, costs can increase significantly, especially if the grandchild has special needs. Some research finds that grandparents with fewer financial resources experience greater depressive symptoms.

Grandparents raising grandchildren often have to choose between their jobs and their families. Some, who are retired, return to work to make ends meet. Others who were working outside the home prior to rearing grandchildren have had to quit their jobs due to the high cost of child care and/or the special needs of the grandchild. These shifts can contribute to grandparent fatigue and depression.

Grandparents who have greater parenting stress are more susceptible to depressive symptoms. Parenting is a tough job in the best of circumstances. Grandparents who are called upon to rear their grandchildren face more challenges than most first-time parents.

Research has found that those grandparents who have more recently taken on the role of caregiver have more depression than those who have been in the role for a longer period of time. The transition to the new family structure takes time. All family members are adjusting to the new situation and roles. Understandably this is a time when grandparents would experience more stress and depression.

If you are a grandparent raising a grandchild, take care of yourself physically and emotionally. Here are some tips:

  • See your health care provider on a regular basis.
  • Consider seeking out mental health services for yourself and your grandchild.
  • Recognize that you may be experiencing grief and loss due to your circumstances.
  • Consider taking parenting classes for an update on raising children.
  • Seek financial assistance through your local social services office.
  • Join a support group to broaden your social network.

If you would like to learn more about depression, you might want to visit a learning lesson:


  • Bailey, S. J. & Letiecq, B. L. (Summer, 2008). "The mental health of rural grandparents rearing their grandchildren." Focal Point: Research, policy, and practice in children’s mental health. 22-25: Index# 228760. Portland, OR: Portland State University Research & Training Center.
  • Letiecq, B. L., Bailey, S. J., & Kurtz, M. A. (2008). "Depression among rural Native American and European American grandparents rearing their grandchildren." Journal of Family Issues. 29:334-56.
  • Letiecq, B. L., Bailey, S. J., & Dahlen, P. (2008). "Intergenerational ambivalence and caregiver coping among grandparents raising grandchildren: Implications for clinical intervention." In B. Hayslip & P. L. Kaminski (eds.) Parenting the Custodial Grandchildren (pp. 3-16). New York

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.