Grandma’s New Home Away From Home

When I was 11 years old, my mother had no choice but to move my grandmother into a nursing home. For me, the change was particularly difficult. “Granny” had been a constant, soothing presence in our house and in my life after my parents divorced and then again after my older siblings moved out. She never failed to welcome me home from school with a cola and a plate of cookies, to listen with genuine interest as I recounted the day’s events, or to find the humor in my silly antics.

As the CEO of several assisted living communities, I have seen this unique family transition play out quite frequently. There is no doubt that moving a grandparent into a new housing arrangement is emotionally difficult. However, it can be handled with less trauma when caregivers engage in deliberate, upfront planning and involve the child in the process.

My mother, for example, went to great lengths to ensure that I stayed involved and maintained a close relationship with my grandmother, and it helped ease what was a painful childhood event. Today, I cherish the time and relationship that I had with my grandmother—both before and after her move.

My mother didn’t have a blueprint for helping me during that time, but I’ve seen many families utilize the following steps.

Steps to Successfully Help Children Adjust to Their Grandparent’s New Living Situation:

  1. Keep the child in the loop. As soon as you know that a move is definite, even it’s not immediate begin to set the stage for change by explaining the reasons to your children in age-appropriate terms. Help your children to understand that even though the living arrangement will change, they will still be able to visit and spend time with their grandparent on a regular basis.
  2. Change perceptions. Today’s assisted living communities are nothing like your grandfather’s nursing home. Describe Grandma’s or Grandpa’s new home to your children in excited, happy terms, and let the child know that they’ll still be able to visit their loved one frequently and spend lots of quality time with them.
  3. Enlist the child’s help. Children love to feel valued and included, and you—and your own parent—can do this by soliciting a child’s advice on some of the key decisions involved in choosing and setting up their grandparents’ new home away from home.
  4. Give the child a sense of purpose. After the move, you can do your part to not only to help your child maintain their bond with their grandparent—but also enhance it.
  5. Encourage connection. Children are sometimes uncomfortable at their loved one’s senior living community because they don’t feel a sense of belonging. You can overcome this by encouraging your child to do things that will enable them to “bond” with their grandparent’s new residence. By keeping your child engaged in their grandparent’s life and working to establish new rituals and traditions, you can help the child build positive feelings for their grandparent’s new home—and new memories with their grandparent.

Of course, a move to a senior living community is often precipitated by more serious health issues, such as advancing dementia or a stroke. Those situations can make the move much more traumatic for a child because it often means that their established relationship with the grandparent will change dramatically, along with the living arrangement. Parents in these situations will need to take additional steps to help their children adjust to, and cope with, these changes. Parents will need to sit down and have an age-appropriate discussion about their grandparent’s health situation and prepare them for how Grandma might look or what she might say.

The key to remember is that, though while health circumstances and living arrangements will likely change over time, the relationship between a grandchild and his or her grandparent can—and should—remain close, memorable and intact.

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