Grandparents often thrust into role of key caregivers
Older generation often finds itself thrust into primary caregiver role
According to Stats Canada 2011, at least 75,000 grandparents in Canada were raising their grandchildren well into their retirement years. The number is much higher today.
Lorraine Fajt, a former caregiver for seniors, is just one of many grandparents in Saskatoon and area who is the primary caregiver for her grandchildren.
She says becoming a grandparent and transitioning into retirement are two stages of life that are typically embraced and anticipated, but unfortunately, the reality for many people is that these roles often have a reciprocal effect on each other.
Fajt says grandparents in this role typically feel they are all alone in their circumstance.
“They often think they have nowhere to turn for help or support, and as a result, may self-isolate. Not surprisingly, they are typically dealing with the emotions of anger, resentment, shame and guilt because their adult child is unwilling to or incapable of parenting due to a myriad reasons.”
She says grandparents or other kin who have stepped into the sacrificial role of caregiver lessen the burden on the foster care system but may find themselves dealing with social services, navigating the court system, or playing the waiting game — hoping their adult child will eventually be able to parent their own children.
“This latter group often falls into the category of ‘gag ’ grandparents,” says Betty Cornelius, who has both personal and professional experience with the dynamics that occur within grandfamilies or skip-generation families, as they are often called. “These are grandparents who won’t admit they are raising their grandchildren because of the stigma attached.”
Twenty-four years ago, while raising her own grandchild in Ontario, Cornelius founded CANGRANDS National Kinship Support which now has more than 35 chapters across Canada.
“When you see an overwhelmed grandmother in the company of grandchildren, chances are good she’s probably raising them,” Cornelius says. “The average age of these grandmothers is 64, and they’re most likely raising more than one grandchild, often children with special needs.”
Educator and counsellor Jodi Bryant has played a kith role in the past. (Kith is a term that refers to a non-relative. In this context, it is a non-relative caring for someone else’s children).
She says parenting grandparents are desperate for support and have no idea where to find it.
But that is changing, thanks to the combined efforts of Fajt, Bryant and Cornelius. It started when Fajt was Googling resources and found Betty Cornelius’s CANGRANDS organization. When she made contact, she discovered that Betty had recently moved to Saskatoon. Fajt and Bryant enthusiastically joined forces with Cornelius to form a support group they named GRANDFAMILY.
GRANDFAMILY holds socials and monthly meetings to offer support to grandparents and other kin and kith who are full-time or part-time caregivers for children and teens.
The group operates under the umbrella of LifeChange & Reconciliation Resources (LCRR), of which Jodi Bryant is director. The organization is a non-profit with charitable status and provides support, advocacy and resources to many areas of ministry.
One of GRANDFAMILY’s important resources is a library of helpful books and literature for both caregivers and the children they are raising.
“It’s a very complicated situation,” Cornelius says, “because the kids we’re raising have a hole in their soul sand we can’ t fix it. That’s our greatest heartache.”
Every day more people discover GRANDFAMILY and make contact.
“Initially the person is only interested in one-on-one communication,” Bryant says, “but once trust is established and built, they’re willing to consider joining a support group. We find that what people want most is just to talk about what they’re dealing with. They want someone to hear their story.”
Bryant says many grandparents end up doing this alone because marriages often fall apart under the constant demand and strain of parenting grandchildren. Sixty per cent are single grandmothers; ten per cent are step-grandmothers with no blood-relationship to the children.
Some are raising siblings, nieces and nephews.
To “bless these people who never seem to get a break,” GRANDFAMILY is organizing a Gratitude for Grands Dinner on Saturday, Nov. 24. RSVPs are required, and a reservation can be made by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com; or by calling Betty at 639- 3180435, Lorraine at 306-280-0197, or Jodi at 306-717-6679. Fajt says, when things get tough, she turns to Isaiah 61:1-11 and finds encouragement in phrases such as, “Everlasting joy will be theirs ... In my faithfulness I will reward them ... the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up ...”
Or she rereads the plaque her husband gave her, which reminds her that “A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove; however, the world will be different because I was important in the life of a child.”
We find that what people want most is just to talk about what they’re dealing with. They want someone to hear their story.
Jodi Bryant, left, Lorraine Fajt and Betty Cornelius have launched GRANDFAMILY, a support group for grandparents and other kin and kith who are raising children and teens.