STRESS is a word that we seem to hear more and more nowadays. The pace of life is so much faster and people are working longer hours,often having to commute further to their place of work. Very often people will say they are ‘stressed out’ after a bad day at work etc., but real stress lasts for more than just a day or so, it can build up over time like a large black cloud hanging over you.  Stress can get to the point where the person affected can’t even begin to see a way out and may even start accepting that this is how their life will be from now on. If not spotted early and changes made stress can lead to severe depression and a host of other illnesses including those that can be life threatening.

Years ago Grandparents were portrayed as being very different to how they are today. Their pace of life seemed to be a lot slower than that of the younger generation. They would probably be retired or at most semi retired. They seemed to have time for gardening and baking and taking day trips and long holidays. They would see their Grandchildren perhaps over Sunday lunch or tea and maybe a little more in the School holidays.

There were of course always exceptions to the rule and the above description did not apply to all, but if you think of the role of Grandparents nowadays compared to years ago then you will appreciate how things have changed.

For the Grandparents of a Grandchild who has additional needs life can be a very emotional roller coaster ride and it can be difficult knowing how to cope.

We love our Children and Grandchildren and want to help them whenever we can. We understand that life can be stressful for them at times. If your Son/Daughter has a child with additional needs though this can become a completely different scenario.

To start with we probably feel that we should be offering to help out more. We acknowledge the fact that our Son/Daughter’s life has changed dramatically, and we feel we should be able to take some of the burden off them. As a parent we have been used to being able to fix things as our children were growing and where we have been unable to fix things permanently we have at least been able to provide reassurance and a promise of better things to come. We are no longer in that position, we cannot put things right and more often than not the future is not something we even want to think about. We start to think along the lines of ‘we don’t matter any more’ just so long as we can be useful and make a difference whilst we are still here and able.

The fact is that WE DO MATTER. Good physical health is important and so is good mental health in fact both go hand in hand. Without either we are of no use to anyone and may end up needing care ourselves and that goes against everything we want to achieve. I have been lucky enough to have attended, along with other members of the local SNUG Group I belong to, a couple of workshops covering the subject of stress and how to deal with it. The following is what I learnt from these workshops. Although I have used some of the material we were given, these are my personal opinions and I am not a trained or qualified therapist, but I hope that my understanding of things that I have learnt from those that are trained may be of help to you as they were to me.

Our first workshop was entitled The Grandparenting Game and to start off we were all given a set of dice and told to start playing the game nothing else was explained. Obviously we just looked at each other wondering what we had to do. What was this game? What were the rules? What was expected of us and did we really want to take part?

Being a Grandparent of a special needs child is definitely not a game but it is a good way of describing how you might feel.

Nothing prepares you for the SN Grandparenting game. You may have been aware of it and you may have known people who have played but to you it is something completely alien, something you were not expecting. No one gives you rules, so you don’t even know if you are playing it right. You may even feel afraid and don’t really want to take part but you know that you are needed in the team.

To start with establishing boundaries and making rules will not be the first thing you will think about as everyone is struggling to find their way. At some point however, before too long, it is important that boundaries are set and rules made clear, because without these you will not be able to survive in the game.

So how do you set about defining the rules and boundaries?  Perhaps the simplest way is to find time to sit and talk with the other members of the family involved. You don’t have to ‘call an official meeting’ or anything like that but it is important that everyone has the chance to say what they can and can’t do. That might seem to go against the grain at a time of crisis but when you look at how emergency services react to an emergency you will notice that they all have pre-defined roles and because they each know their own role they can work together effectively as a team. Yes there may be times when they have to cover for someone or do something a bit different to suit the occasion but that is something they are prepared for should the need arise.

It sounds simple but I know it’s not. We are bought up from an early age to think that wanting something for yourself is wrong and being selfish makes you a bad person. We are told that we should put ourselves last and others first, but I would challenge that and say how can we effectively look after others if we are incapable of recognising how to look after ourselves in the first instance? What image do we give to our children and Grandchildren if we are constantly putting ourselves last? We are teaching them that we don’t matter, that we are not important, which in turn as they become adult, could lead them to think that they are not important and that is definitely not what we want.

If your cause of stress is due to family pressures or work or financial pressures then by talking honestly to people lends to a feeling of mental and emotional well-being and in turn the ability to be able to cope with future pressures and stress.

You want to help out with the Grandchildren as much as you can but you also need to make time for yourself and your partner. Working this out effectively is important. You do not like having to say no, but on the other hand if you are at everyone’s beck and call without any time for yourself then it won’t be long before you start to feel tired and unwell. By setting boundaries early on and coming to a suitable arrangement you will feel as if you have at least some control over your own life. You are also setting a good example to your children.  As mentioned earlier, emergencies do happen, life does not always run to plan and that has to be expected but by looking after yourself and learning how to avoid stress as much as possible will give you the energy and positive attitude you need to be able to cope with whatever life throws your way.

If you use a smart phone or email you could set up a shared calendar (such as Google) which yourself and other members of the family have access to so that everyone can see at a glance and know who is and who is not available. Obviously this does rely on family members checking and filling in the calendar so it may not work for everyone, but however you organise things making sure that you feel able to take time out for yourself and not feel guilty, is important.

Here are some stress busting tips that were passed on from one of the workshops. I have a copy of them on my notice board and so I can be reminded daily.

  1. Have a clear understanding of your role; what are the rules?

  2. Have clearly established boundaries

  3. Remember that it is OK to say NO

  4. Remember you have a name not just a role!  (You are a person in your own right)

  5. Make time for yourself and what you want to do

  6. Be as kind to yourself as you would be to someone else  ( you are no lesser a person).

  7. Make time for fun and laughter

  8. Spend time with people who make you laugh and feel good about yourself.

One other thing that can help when we feel stressed is to get out if possible into the fresh air. Go for a jog, a walk or a bike ride it is surprising how this can lift your spirits and help you to start thinking more clearly.

Finally remember that you are not responsible for all the bad things that can happen in life and you cannot always make things better. What you can do is take care of yourself, help those around you when you can but accept that there will be times when you just have to say no. You may not realise it now, but others will respect you for it, but most importantly you will have respect for yourself.

SPECIAL ACKNOWLEDGEMENT to:  Annie Candeland who is a well being consultant/trainer and whose workshops on The Grandparenting Game and Building Resilience;embracing challenge inspired me to write this.



  1. We are grandparents to a wonderful little boy who just happens to be a high functioning autistic little person whose main disability is being non-verbal. He and his mama, papa and his little 2 year old brother live in Dubai, Hopefully at the end of the year, my husband and I will be joining them. We live in South Africa. The reason for joining them , other than that we miss them, is to bring relief to the family by helping out, and also giving the gift of personal time to the parents. So reading your article was very enlightening and serves as a reminder that my husband and I will also need personal time. Thank you for the info.

  2. Hi – this is great advice! I have a son with special needs and I really don’t know how we would have survived without our parents support. I run Friday Club, a group for parents and carers (including grandparents of course) of any child with a special need or disability. We meet every friday mornoing during termtime at Charnwood Childrens Centre in Lichfield. Our blog is at

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