University of Illinois Extension

After the Separation and Loss

Gisela Grumbach, Family Life Educator

Loss and separation are difficult experiences to handle. For children, it is an even greater challenge because they are dependent on others for everything they need. Despite the problems they faced in the past, their new situation - living with someone other than their natural parent - may still bring about fear and uncertainty.

Children are often left feeling confused and abandoned. Your grandchildren may even feel a sense of responsibility and blame for the break-up of their family. They want to know what will happen to them; how long they will be separated from their natural parents; and how long your commitment to taking care of them will last.

With love and understanding, you can help them adjust to their new living arrangement. These tips may help as you talk with your grandchildren.

  • Make sure they understand how their family became separated - explain it in a non-judgmental way.
  • Help them understand that their parents love them despite their current situation. You might explain that their parents need help (counseling, parenting classes, etc.).
  • Help your grandchildren understand that they are special. Encourage them to create a scrapbook, journal, or story about what makes them feel special.
  • Treat the children with unconditional love.
  • Never threaten to "give them back," because of undesirable behavior.
  • Help them make a smooth transition back into your home after they return from sibling/parental visits. Create an atmosphere of warmth and security.

Be patient - it will take time for your grandchildren to heal and adjust. And, always remember that your sacrifice does not go unnoticed. Your grandchildren love and appreciate all your hard work and dedication.