Life ad­vice

How Ca­role Smith, 71, copes with be­ing main carer to her five grand­chil­dren.

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - Stellar - - Contents -

My hus­band Ray and I had a daugh­ter who had fallen into drugs. We hadn’t seen her for a while, and then she came home to us preg­nant. When our grand­daugh­ter Te­gan was born, things were seem­ingly go­ing along fine but then my daugh­ter got back on drugs. Te­gan’s fa­ther was on them too, and he was im­pris­oned. Our daugh­ter be­came preg­nant again. This time it was a boy, Daniel.

We were given full-time care of both chil­dren. Around this time, my son Gre­gory’s wife was di­ag­nosed with can­cer.

At first, Ray and I trav­elled back and forth to help care for their three kids while Gre­gory sup­ported his wife. She got much sicker, so we de­cided to let the kids live with us. I had to give up my job at the hospi­tal be­cause I sud­denly had five kids un­der the age of four at home; the two youngest were just 18 months old. It was like start­ing all over again.

When his wife died, Gre­gory didn’t cope. We all de­cided it would be best to keep the kids with us.

The hard­est part has been the so­cial iso­la­tion. You lose your friends. They have raised their kids and are off do­ing their own thing. But you’re start­ing all over again… nap­pies, tantrums, lunch boxes, the whole lot.

The kids have grown into teenagers now, and the fi­nan­cial side is tough. Friends of­fer me their old clothes, which I ab­so­lutely love. I get out the spray and wipe to clean up the shoes, I take hems down, take things in, let things out. We cook at home. Some­how, you get by.

I was di­ag­nosed with pul­monary lung fi­bro­sis (I don’t smoke) and I worry about what might hap­pen to the kids as my own health gets worse. The doc­tors have given me three to five years to live and I’m on oxy­gen more than 20 hours a day.

The kids ask me where they will go if I die. And Ray, who keeps him­self so fit says, “Well, if any­thing hap­pens to Gran, we’ll be right.” I’m so lucky with Ray – we have been dat­ing since we were teenagers. He is the ab­so­lute love of my life, the best thing since sliced bread.

A lot of peo­ple out there wouldn’t care for their grand­kids but, then again, a lot would. De­spite it all, in our home there’s a lot of laugh­ter. When­ever I hear that sound, it re­minds me how I’d do it all again if I had to. Mirabel Foun­da­tion as­sists chil­dren who are in the care of ex­tended fam­ily (kin­ship care); mirabelfoun­da­tion.org.au.

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