November 9, 2022
Health and Mental Care
Financial Assistance
Family Support
Basic Needs

By Liz Meyers, Family & Parent Services Director, M.ed. Certified Family Life Educator at Mental Health America of Southeast Florida.

Karen Cooper, MSHS, Certified Case Manager.

Laura Diaz de Arce, C.R.P.S.

All parenting is difficult, but it can be an extra challenge when parenting duties suddenly fall into the lap of someone who was not planning it. Later-in-life caregivers, such as grandparents and older relatives who become guardians for related children, may experience “Caregiver Syndrome.” These are some of the challenges that caregivers may experience and how to best combat the difficulties they face. 

How Someone Becomes a Caregiver

It is important to remember that family separation is a traumatic experience from the start.These separations occur when biological parents are unable or unwilling to take care of their children. There are often tragic circumstances, including substance use, mental illness, incarceration, abandonment, homelessness, and disability. These situations are not only difficult for the children but can also agitate strain between grandparents and their own children, the biological parents. 

Adapting to Caregiving

Caregivers are often older adults or seniors who often did not plan to raise their grandchildren full time and might not have lifestyles that can easily adapt to these new circumstances. Many older adults may be retired or on a fixed income. They may reside in retirement communities or in smaller housing. Caregivers may have certain disabilities that can make it difficult to keep up with young children. They may have other caregiving commitments, such as to a spouse, and it may be difficult to negotiate those duties with childrearing.To adapt, they may be forced to move,become employed or shift their employment around their new caregiving duties.  

Effects of Caregiving

Grandparents can understandably find themselves overwhelmed by these changes.Many may not have chosen to begin parenting again. he relationship they wanted with their grandchildren would be that of occasional caretaker, not full-time parenting.The changes they experience as they transition to becoming a guardian can often create a lot of stress for these caregivers.  

Of course,children in these situations are also dealing with their own difficulties.The separation from their biological parents is often rife with feelings of hurt, inadequacy, rejection, anger,abandonment as well as confusion over their roles and over who is the actual parent.Sometimes,children put into temporary or permanent guardianship come from abusive situations and need additional care. These feelings can lead to behavioral issues, academic issues, depression and more.Even formerly positive relationships between grandparents and their grandchildren can come under strain.  

Signs and Symptoms It is understandable that the strain of becoming a caregiver can result in both physical and mental issues. Caregivers may feel tired or have difficulty sleeping. They may deal with anxiety, depression and have difficulty finding ways to relax. They have trouble concentrating or may neglect their responsibilities. They may become irritable, experience feelings of hopelessness or guilt. Caregivers often neglect themselves, including their own health and self-care.  

Addressing “Caregiver Syndrome” Recognizing the ways in which this situation may be affecting you is the first step. While this type of change in lifestyle affects people in varied ways, finding it troubling is perfectly normal. In the face of change and stress, it is important to prioritize your self-care. This means finding ways to reengage with activities that brought you joy, managing your own physical health, and seeking professional help.  

Some who transition to guardianship may start to feel like everyone is against them or anger. They may need a psychological evaluation or professional counseling as a result. It’s important to seek that help. 

Finding ways to engage with the children in your care can also help bridge the gap. This means regularly planning family activities that are fun for everyone. Building positive memories and experiences helps grandparents and grandchildren bond and nurture the relationship. Appreciating the little moments of affection, with a hug or cuddling, can really help.  

It is also important that caregivers take advantage of respite opportunities, allowing others to take care of the children so caregivers can have some time for themselves. It gives them the space to catch a breath, run errands, or reconnect with the activities they enjoy.  

Despite the challenges, with time and support caregivers can overcome “Caregiver Syndrome” and have wonderfully enriched lives with their children.  

Mental Health America of Southeast Florida provides community services in Broward County. For a list of programs, including kinship programs, please visit

Karen Cooper is a caregiver who shared her personal experience for this article

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Caregiver Syndrome

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