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Guardian Grandparents

teen and grandparentsI know how special grandchildren are. I have two young granddaughters, and my heart jumps a beat every time I get to see them. The relationship between a grandparent and grandchild is very special.

Grandparents can also have a strong positive influence on their grandchildren. One rather well known example is President Barack Obama, who lived with his grandparents for several years.  More and more I am hearing from grandparents who are raising their grandchildren in their home.  When birth-parents are no longer able to care for a child,  grandparents must sometimes fill the void and do double-duty as guardians, instead of letting their grandchild child enter foster care.

We’ll talk more about the importance of active grandparenting in the coming days, but I wanted to tell you about some grandparents who recently contacted me, asking for advice on how to handle the information that their young granddaughter was recently diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis. They wanted to know when and what they should tell her about her illness.

It’s a question I’m often asked . . . how to handle it when a teen is diagnosed with an illness or life-threatening disease. Parents wonder, “What do I tell them?”  “How much information do they need?”  “When is the time right to reveal the truth?”

My rule in these situations is to always keep a child “in the know” about their illness. It affects their future, and they deserve to know what’s in store. Tell them the truth in age-appropriate terms. Disclosing the news of a serious health issue has more to do with a child’s right to know than how the child is going to “take it.” You can’t control how another person responds. And not telling them is not an option. After all, it would be far worse for a child to find out another way. Withholding information until they’re older and sicker will only result in their becoming angry that they hadn’t been told earlier.

Instead of overwhelming the child with everything at once, share more details as they ask for it and can handle it.  They’ll also learn about it online, so be ready to talk about it with them.  As all of the ramifications of their illness become more fully understood, keep the communication lines open to allow the child to openly talk about their illness.

A child may respond to the devastating news of a terminal illness better than you thought.  For instance, they may begin prioritizing what to do with the rest of their life. They might feel that school is not as important, or the socialization that comes with it. I think this is a pretty normal response. Quite honestly, in this situation I wouldn’t worry too much about school.  There are bigger issues to consider. Your teen may choose to do some things now that they may miss out on later. You may see behavior you don’t understand, and it may not always be appropriate. In that case, some boundaries need to be in place to make sure their pursuits don’t gravitate toward trouble.

Whether a child’s guardians are the parents or grandparents, caring for a seriously ill child is a tough situation. Fortunately, kids are resilient, and I’ve seen many of them handle bad news a lot better than their parents, or grandparents. Telling the truth won’t be easy, but it is necessary. I pray that God will guide and direct the thoughts and words of grandparents walking this path.

And if you are that grandparent who has stepped in to raise your grandchildren, may God bless you for doing so.  You are a hero in my eyes, and I’m sure you are a hero to your grandchildren as well.

Author: Mark Gregston

Mark Gregston began working with teens more than 40 years ago as a youth minister and Young Life director. He has authored nearly two dozen books, has written hundreds of articles, and is host of the nationally-acclaimed Parenting Today’s Teens podcast and radio broadcast.