Grannies gone global

Grandmothers support peers, find encouragement

WINNIPEG, MB—A young mom herself, Pat L. wasn’t eager to be a grandmother at the age of 35. Dale A. also took home her first grandchild at 35. They agree, “The baby needs to be with family, but it’s hard.”

It is estimated at least 10 per cent of North American children live with grandparents or other relatives. Globally, the percentage rises. Grannies Gone Global, begun in Winnipeg in 2006, helps meet the needs of some of those grandmothers facing child-rearing for the second time around.

The idea grew from the concern experienced by Christine Penner, then principal at St. John High School in Winnipeg, when she noticed the many grandmothers providing primary care for SJHS students. She invited three women to meet for coffee. One asked if they could meet again and the support group was born.

“[Christine] came to my house, even though it was known as a crack house. I was working for Main Street Project, and the people there respected me, so I felt safe managing the rooming house,” Dale explains. “During all the years our children and grandchildren had been in North End schools, no one ever came to see us. This beautiful woman came to my house!”

Dale and Pat welcomed the opportunity to get away for a bit, and to connect with others who have found themselves more involved in their grandchildren’s lives than they ever imagined they would be.

“When my daughter found out she was pregnant, she cried. ‘I’m not ready to be a parent, and I don’t believe in abortion. I want you and Dad to raise my baby,’” Dale says. Dale was tired after raising her own children and helping to care for nephews. Still, she and her husband Stan began the journey that led them to a retirement different from what they had anticipated.

Dale and Stan cherish good relationships with grandchildren in their care, while grieving the choices that render their children incapable of parenting those children.

There are many complicated emotions involved.

“You stole my children from me,” Pat says her daughter complains. Her grandson is also angry; he cannot understand why he should respect the people who brought him into the world, but do not provide for him.

The grandparents face other challenges. Sometimes they cannot afford their own medication or the children’s dental care. Still, they reach out to others. They raise funds for a scholarship program at St. John, and to support four sister groups in Uganda.

Similar groups have started in Borderland and Fisher River areas. Winnipeg Grannies meet monthly to talk, enjoy a meal or crafts. “We’ve shared births and deaths, prayers and hugs.”

An annual retreat at Camp Cedarwood is a highlight for the women. “Our group is such a blessing. I thank God for Chris and the grandmas, and all the volunteers,” says Dale.

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About the author


ChristianWeek Columnist

Pat Gerbrandt is a Manitoba writer who delights to learn how God is working in and through His children, and enjoys sharing these accounts. Do you know a senior with an amazing story? Let us know! E-mail krempel@christianweek.org or call 1-800-263-6695.