SURPRISE! Why Caregivers and Youth Can Experience an Identity Crisis During Kinship Care

As adults, I always joked with my brother, saying he was the “father of our country” because he had six children in close succession. He beamed about his kids and loved telling anyone who would listen how much his children meant to him.

Because my brother began having children at 19, it made sense that he would become a grandfather at a younger age. When his first grandson was born, I watched how his eyes lit up and his smile enveloped the entirety of his face. I asked him what he was feeling, and I will never forget what he said to me that evening.

“Sis, my kids are the rainbows in my skies. My grandkids? Now they are the pots of gold at the end of those rainbows!”

I suspect all grandparents have dreams, expectations, and fantasies about how they hope to grandparent and how they hope to impart ALL the wisdom they have accumulated raising the parents of these grandchildren. So what happens when grandparents, aunts, uncles, sisters, or brothers are thrust into caring for their family’s children?

One of the things that happens, very quickly, is that kin caregivers become more parent-like and less grammy-like or auntie-like, and they experience an identity crisis. Not only is this transition difficult for the adults, but it is also extremely confusing for the children and youth. Their little minds are unable to grasp the confusing nature of adults transitioning from extended family to more hands-on and parental.

It is critical that child welfare staff understand this identity crisis so that they can support families through these transitions. It is just as important to illuminate these challenges for kinship caregivers, who may be confused about what they are experiencing or unaware that these uncertainties might arise.

For more insight into the challenging experiences of kinship care, watch this webinar with Dr. Joseph Crumbley, a leading expert in kinship care who has created many videos that support and inform families.