Finding out you are going to be a grandparent, whether for the first or eighth time, is a cause for celebration. The bond that can form between grandparent and grandchild is a special gift that not everyone gets to experience. Learning that your grandchild has a special need shouldn't change this, whether you find out before birth or when the child is a bit older. Knowing what to do to help the child's parents and the child can be difficult at first, but you have the ability to make life better and easier for everyone. After all, there's a new child in your life whom you can love and spoil to no end.
Don't Point Fingers
More often than not, when a child is born with a special need, there's no one to blame. Parents of special needs children often carry a great deal of guilt even though they did not cause the child's condition. Genetic conditions are especially hard because the parents know that their child's diagnosis is a direct result of the passing on of their genes. The feeling of "I did this to her" can be very overwhelming. Help your daughter or son grieve and get through this feeling of guilt by reassuring them it is not their fault.
Don't Deny or Disregard the Diagnosis
Refusing to believe that a child has a certain condition doesn't do anyone any good. Just because you don't want to believe your grandchild has autism, cystic fibrosis, or cerebral palsy does not mean it isn't true. Being in denial will push your daughter or son away and it will make it harder to be a key part of your grandchild's life like you want to be.
Learn, Learn, Learn
Gather all of the information you can about your grandchild's condition. Understanding what your daughter or son is dealing with and what your grandchild's needs are will help you deal with your own emotions and will allow you to be a better help to the family. Attend conferences, go to doctor's appointments, ask questions, and encourage the rest of the extended family to do the same.
Let Your Child Be Your Guide
Follow your daughter or son's lead when it comes to taking care of your grandchild. Stick to the schedule and rules the parents have in place, and understand that most of these regulations are there due to a doctor's advice. Don't assume your child is overreacting or being overprotective. He or she has learned what is best for your grandchild and is doing everything to take care of her.
Spend Time With Your Grandchild and Be Yourself
At first, it may be difficult for you to hide your emotions when it comes to the diagnosis of your grandchild. But don't let your fears get in the way of spending time with her. You may not know what to say or how to act initially after the diagnosis, but distancing yourself will make an older child feel like she did something wrong, and won't allow you the time to bond with a young child or newborn.
Provide Respite for Your Child
Learn enough about taking care of your grandchild so that you can be there to provide the parents some much needed time off. Taking care of a child with a special need is exhausting. There is constant worry, a constant need for attention to detail, and very little time to relax. Not being able to pick up the phone and call a babysitter makes it even harder. Having someone trustworthy and knowledgeable available to watch their child will make life a lot easier.
Besides being there for the family in the present, you need to plan for the future. There's a lot to consider when there is a child with a special need in the family. The greater the disability, the more help the child will need down the road.
Take Care of Yourself
Amidst all of the day-to-day tasks of caring for your grandchild and the family, don't forget to take care of yourself. Keep yourself healthy. Your family needs you, especially your grandchild. Plan to live a long time and be around to help.
Get Advice About Financial Planning
If you plan on giving your grandchild money at holidays and birthdays just as you have with your other grandchildren, get advice from a financial planner first. Oftentimes, those with disabilities can get benefits from the government upon turning eighteen. However, they can only have a limited amount of assets in order to qualify for those benefits. Educate yourself when it comes to your estate and financial planning for your grandchild with special needs. Giving money is generous, but could hurt the child in the long run.