Grand­par­ents of­ten thrust into role of key care­givers

Older gen­er­a­tion of­ten finds it­self thrust into pri­mary care­giver role

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - NEWS - DAR­LENE POLACHIC

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: grandma@can­grands.com or jodi.rrmin­istries@gmail.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.

DAR­LENE POLACHIC

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.

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