Raising a child is one of the most challenging jobs parents face.
Those challenges can multiply when grandparents or family members unexpectedly have to take over parenting.
According to Statistics Canada, some 60,000 grandparents in Canada are sole caregivers to their grandchildren, and thousands more relatives are raising children other than their own.
There are an estimated 13,000 children in kinship care in B.C., with few resources available to support their caregivers.
Two Salmon Arm women who are parenting a child other than their own have taken training through the Parent Support Services Society of BC and are facilitating a new Support Circle that will offer peer-to-peer support.
Mary Scheidegger was in a new relationship and looking forward to being an empty nester and sharing retirement with her partner, when she became full-time parent to her grandson two years ago.
“All those things got thrown to the wind,” she said pointing out while there are many moments of joy, she often feels isolated and lonely.
“I don’t get to connect with many friends who are of the same age and I don’t feel I fit in anywhere.”
Scheidegger says there are many reasons why grandparents or other family members are suddenly faced with becoming “parents” again.
“Addictions is the biggest one, but there are mental health issues, death, incarceration and incapacity,” she said.
In her early 40s, Jennifer Beckett was 37 years old when she and her husband took on the role of parents to her great niece.
Unlike Scheidegger, Beckett says she has friends who were still having children and her own mother is a great support, so the transition wasn’t as difficult.
“We were just getting to the point of having some freedom,” she said, noting the youngest of her three boys was 14 at the time and she was able to focus more on a career she loves.
“We were looking forward to doing more things and not thinking about childcare.”
But like Scheidegger, she was suddenly faced with 18 years of not just childcare, but making lunches, fitting in child-centred activities, playdates and new challenges presented by social media.
“I get exhausted just thinking about it,” she said of a life without downtime.
“It’s a bit of a grieving process; you’re giving things up and your time isn’t your own again.”
And there are feelings of resentment and anger that need to be addressed but are often accompanied by shame and are difficult to express, adds Scheidegger.
Unable to find support for themselves and knowing there are other grandparent and kinship parents in the community, Scheidegger and Beckett will facilitate the new Grandparent and Kinship Care Circle, which will meet from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on the second and fourth Thursday of each month.
With support of the province and United Way, the meetings are confidential and a light supper is provided.
Topics up for discussion are brought by participants and can include such subjects as family relationships, financial realities, legal and custody challenges, physical and emotional health.
“Our situation is unique and we can’t jut talk to anybody about them,” Scheidegger said.
“So this peer support group is meant to provide a listening ear, friendship, support, ideas and probably a few laughs. But there is no counselling or legal advice.”
All Grandparents Raising Grandchildren and Kin Caregivers in the Shuswap are welcome.
For more information and to register, call 1-877-345-9777, or either Mary Scheidegger at 250-833-6379 or Jennifer Beckett at 250-517-7557.