The Second Time Around

Bonnie Baker Cowan | March 18th, 2014

When my friend Anna’s teenaged daughter decided to have her baby, Anna offered to raise the child as her own. That was back in the late ’50s, and her decision was a common solution to teen pregnancies.

Surprisingly since then, the numbers of grandparents raising their grandchildren has increased substantially. According to Statistics Canada, as of 2006, about 62,500 grandparents were raising grandchildren with no biological parent present. And in 2011, Statistics Canada reported that 75,185  children (27,280  of them in Ontario) are being raised by family other than parents, most of those grandmothers.

Numbers are even higher in First Nations communities where grandmothers like Celine of Brantford, Ont., find raising grandchildren a common role that is repeated through the generations. “My mother raised my sister’s child,” she says. “It’s what is expected.”

Why is this happening? Aren’t we done with raising our family?

Besides teen pregnancy, child abuse, divorce, job loss, incarceration and illness, especially HIV-AIDS, all contribute to the reasons the numbers of grandparents who parent their grandchildren have increased. Another reason is substance abuse by the child’s parent. When child welfare authorities step in, they make an attempt to keep the child in the family fold – hence, the grandparents.

The good news is that in what is being dubbed the skip generation, these children do as well in two-parent families in terms of health and behaviour.

That’s encouraging for a generation of kids who might otherwise end up on the street or worse. But few of us plan to raise a second family, and there are considerably more challenges than we faced raising our own.

First of all, we’re facing our own mortality and worry about who will care for these kids when we’re gone. And let’s face it; many of us are susceptible to age-related diseases that, at the very least, affect our physical energy and emotional stamina in being responsible for children who require support 24-7. When Anna faced the challenge of raising her granddaughter back in the ’50s, she was in her early 40s. Grandparents who are 20 to 30 years older than Anna may not enjoy the same resilience and vigour.

Most importantly, raising a child is expensive, a cost most of us have probably planned to use for our own retirement or at least the freedom
to enjoy our own interests. While foster parents get an allowance, grandparents do not. There is a Child in the Home of a Relative program in B.C. that responds to financial needs, and grandparents can claim tax deductions for medical and daycare costs for eligible dependents. However, the
program is no longer accepting applications and most government programs that support grandparents are elusive and based on income, and many find themselves resigned to cashing in retirement savings or refinancing their homes to meet the new parenting responsibilities.

Politicians and social workers are beginning to recognize the growing needs of grandparents caring for their grandchildren, but it may not happen quickly enough. Support groups are beginning to lobby for legislation that would support them. Check out for more information about support.