University of Illinois Extension

When Grandkids Come and Go

Ann Marie Marshall, Family Life Educator

Are your grandchildren in a boomerang mode? Do they go back and forth between your house and a parent's home? This process can be confusing for your grandchildren and emotionally draining for all of you.

Grandparents who parent say their greatest wish is for their grandchildren to go back to their parents. Then they will be able to go back to being grandparents. But, it may also be their greatest fear when they are concerned about a child's safety.

Here are some ideas that may help with transitions:

  • Talk to your grandchildren about what is happening and encourage them to talk about their feelings. If you will be unable to have continual contact, assure the children that you will always be thinking about them. Help them plan a way to contact you in an emergency.
  • Create a ceremony for leaving. Set aside a space in your home that belongs to your grandchildren, whether they are in residence or not. A closet, trunk or decorative box can be safe storage for special possessions they want to leave with you.
  • Create a ritual when they return to your home. This ritual could be preparing a special food, making their bed with a favorite set of sheets, reading a story together, or cuddling in a big chair. Older children may prefer some private time; however, a favorite food should work for any age.
  • Teach your grandchildren life skills. Show them how to use the telephone, including a pay phone, for an emergency call. Teach them how to make simple meals. Talk about how to find a trusted adult and how to identify inappropriate touching.
  • Try to put aside conflict with your adult child so that transitions from one household to another can be as orderly as possible.
  • Allow yourself time to grieve. Sadness, anger and emptiness are all normal emotions you may feel when you experience a loss. Your grandchildren's departure is a loss. Allow yourself time to grieve and look for positive action to help channel your energy. Some grandparents have become politically active, turning their grief into activism. They want to help other grandparents cope with a legal system that may not have been helpful to them.

Boomerang children may face more than emotional issues. The boomerang mode may impact school enrollment, health care, and financial support. When this happens, it may be time to resolve custody issues.