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Par­tic­i­pant Spot­light: Sup­port­ing Rel­a­tives Rais­ing Chil­dren Group

Team at Senior Games

Vol­ley­ball is a major part of my self-care,” shares Vern. I start­ed play­ing vol­ley­ball in 7th grade – my team won a cham­pi­onship, and that got me going for­ev­er.” Now in her 70s, Vern’s vol­ley­ball team, the Chica­go Heat, have won 4 gold medals, two sil­ver, and three bronze at the Nation­al Senior Games, also called the Senior Olympics. Vol­ley­ball has not only been a big part of Vern’s life and well­ness, but it has cre­at­ed many oppor­tu­ni­ties for her to con­nect with the grand­chil­dren she is rais­ing, her 17-year-old grand­daugh­ter and her 20-year-old grand­son. Vol­ley­ball is also how Vern was intro­duced to KYC; Vern was play­ing vol­ley­ball when a friend told her about a news­pa­per ad she’d seen for a sup­port group that KYC was offer­ing for rel­a­tives who are rais­ing kids. Her friend encour­aged her to check it out, and 14 years lat­er, Vern is still learn­ing new ways to grow and con­nect with her grand­kids through KYC’s Rel­a­tives Rais­ing Chil­dren group.

Chal­lenges and Joys of Par­ent­ing: Round Two

Action Game

In speak­ing with Vern, it’s clear that she is extreme­ly inten­tion­al in remain­ing both sharp and open-mind­ed when it comes to build­ing mean­ing­ful con­nec­tions with oth­ers. Find­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties to laugh and cel­e­brate her sense of humor are also par­tic­u­lar­ly impor­tant to her. I’ve been rais­ing kids for 42 years now,” shares Vern. She rec­og­nizes that some of the chal­lenges she’s fac­ing now large­ly con­trast her first round of par­ent­ing, from feel­ing like she has less in com­mon with their heav­i­ly tech-dri­ven inter­ests, to jok­ing that school fundrais­ers are trick­i­er now. Vern men­tions, half-laugh­ing, Who do you go to when you’re a par­ent pro­mot­ing a fundrais­er? The grand­par­ents. So, who do you hit up for mon­ey when you are the grand­par­ents?” Anoth­er com­mon con­flict she points out is the dif­fi­cul­ty in return­ing to find­ing babysit­ters when plan­ning to go out; along­side feel­ing less able to trav­el freely as she had pic­tured doing in her senior years. 

Despite the chal­lenges, she and her hus­band have found some dif­fer­ences that may be for­tu­itous­ly help­ful; now when we go places,” Vern shares, “[the kids] get the children’s rates, and you get the senior rates!” While trav­el may be more dif­fi­cult now, Vern recounts a sweet mem­o­ry of when her grand­son told her grand­daugh­ter, you’re so lucky Grand­ma and I play sports because you get to go on all these won­der­ful trips with us,” as the fam­i­ly has made vaca­tions out of their sports tour­na­ments. Through it all, Vern empha­sizes how tak­ing time for your­self and con­nect­ing with oth­ers going through sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tions makes it much eas­i­er to handle. 

Build­ing Con­nec­tion and Community

KYC’s Rel­a­tives Rais­ing Chil­dren Group is intend­ed to build an envi­ron­ment in which par­ent­ing rel­a­tives can bring their spe­cif­ic chal­lenges, con­cerns, and insights to share, along with resources that are most rel­e­vant to the issues they are fac­ing. Rather than adher­ing to a pre-deter­mined cur­ricu­lum, this flex­i­bil­i­ty allows group par­tic­i­pants to explore the top­ics that are most imme­di­ate­ly help­ful to them, all while con­nect­ing with oth­ers who can direct­ly relate. 

When Vern con­nect­ed with KYC, she was deal­ing with an immense amount of loss. Her moth­er, her broth­er-in-law, and her beloved dog all passed away with­in a cou­ple of months. Her daughter’s chil­dren, then 3 and 5, came under Vern’s care along­side her hus­band. In addi­tion to pro­cess­ing these extreme­ly dif­fi­cult loss­es, she described that she was sud­den­ly also deal­ing with the loss of much of her free­dom in exchange for car­ing for her grand­kids. Vern knew she simul­ta­ne­ous­ly need­ed to tran­si­tion her rela­tion­ship with her grand­kids from being a lov­ing grand­par­ent to now being a pri­ma­ry care­giv­er: she had to make the move from grand­par­ent­ing to par­ent­ing. A num­ber of years lat­er, Vern’s daugh­ter died. As Vern and her grand­chil­dren all came togeth­er to process the grief, they built stronger rela­tion­ships with one anoth­er while cre­at­ing space to expe­ri­ence the loss they each felt.

Vern recalls that Daxa, KYC’s Care­giv­er Spe­cial­ist and leader of the Rel­a­tive Rais­ing Chil­dren group, host­ed a speak­er to talk to the group about grief and loss short­ly after Vern joined. As Vern shares, han­dling grief is also tak­ing care of yourself-it’s very impor­tant that you go through it and don’t just stall it.” Deal­ing with the loss­es of loved ones and par­ent­ing are nev­er easy. Hav­ing a car­ing sup­port net­work like the one Vern estab­lished for her­self through this group pro­vid­ed her with addi­tion­al insight to nav­i­gate many aspects of these challenges.

Learn­ing to Thrive


Group mem­bers not only learn from Daxa, an expe­ri­enced social work­er, but they also learn from one anoth­er. Many group par­tic­i­pants share com­mon expe­ri­ences. Vern shares that every one of us gets a chance to say some­thing in each meet­ing,” cre­at­ing space for mem­bers to con­nect and share how they may have addressed sim­i­lar situations. 

We’ve had speak­ers come in and talk about social media – things we’re not as famil­iar with. We’ve also had speak­ers talk about guardian­ship and adop­tion, and they direct us to help­ful books and web­sites. They have also talked about sur­vivor ben­e­fits,” all of which has been very help­ful, adds Vern. 

Many group par­tic­i­pants also now find them­selves as part of a sand­wich gen­er­a­tion” of folks car­ing for young chil­dren as well as for aging par­ents and/​or spous­es. With so many care­giv­ing respon­si­bil­i­ties, it can be incred­i­bly dif­fi­cult to make time to care for one­self, but this is also some­thing that the group strong­ly empha­sizes. Daxa has always stressed the impor­tance of tak­ing care of our­selves men­tal­ly, emo­tion­al­ly, and phys­i­cal­ly,” shares Vern, as a crit­i­cal step in pro­vid­ing the care that oth­ers need from care­givers, as well.

Car­ing for Your­self to Care for Others

Car­ing for oth­ers can be incred­i­bly time-con­sum­ing and chal­leng­ing. Though it can be exceed­ing­ly dif­fi­cult for care­givers to find time for them­selves, Vern shares that tak­ing care of your­self and your rela­tion­ship with your spouse is the most impor­tant thing you can do”. This is also a sen­ti­ment that Daxa empha­sizes with the group and works to cre­ate space dur­ing meet­ings for par­tic­i­pants to social­ize and enjoy one another’s company.

Daxa plans group activ­i­ties that coin­cide with the emo­tion­al, phys­i­cal, and men­tal help that we get by doing them togeth­er and bond­ing as a group. Then we’re able to open up more to each oth­er in meet­ings,” Vern explains. Activ­i­ties have includ­ed a paint­ing par­ty, a mini golf out­ing, mem­ber­ship and a trip to the Morten Arbore­tum, and enjoy­ing a meal togeth­er. Each activ­i­ty is an oppor­tu­ni­ty to build trust for the work they do through the group, but also gives each par­tic­i­pant a chance to be them­selves, have fun, and con­nect with oth­er adults who are not depend­ing on them. It’s so good to belong to a sup­port group where peo­ple have the same things in com­mon as you, and you can just feel com­fort­able to com­plain if you need to and not feel bad­ly,” Vern offers.

Morten Arboretum

Vern's family enjoying the holiday lights at the Morten Arboretum

Vern expounds that a big part of her suc­cess in rais­ing her grand­chil­dren has been her stick-to-it-ive­ness”. Although it can be oner­ous to con­tin­ue to make time to care for her­self, she is com­mit­ted to tak­ing time to play (and win!) vol­ley­ball and con­nect and laugh with friends. She has found unique ways to con­nect with her grand­kids on indi­vid­ual lev­els by par­tic­i­pat­ing in their inter­ests – whether it’s by walk­ing her dog with her grand­son when he returns from work, or vol­un­teer­ing on Sat­ur­days with her grand­daugh­ter- and by shar­ing her own inter­ests with them. Vol­ley­ball has become a cher­ished shared activ­i­ty, becom­ing a vaca­tion oppor­tu­ni­ty for the fam­i­ly, and cre­at­ing date nights” for her and her hus­band to enjoy watch­ing games together.

She also max­i­mizes the resources that are avail­able to her. There are so many peo­ple who could ben­e­fit from groups like KYC’s Rel­a­tives Rais­ing Chil­dren Group,” she shares. Car­ing for a new gen­er­a­tion of chil­dren is chal­leng­ing enough – mak­ing the most of free resources can help.

Con­nect with KYC

To learn more about KYC’s Rel­a­tives Rais­ing Chil­dren Group, call KYC at 8475248800 ext. 168.

Learn more about our Care­giv­er resources from our Care­giv­er Spe­cial­ist, Daxa.

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