Grandparents taking active roles in raising local families

One night a week, Jeanne and Pat Balcom pick up their granddaughter Annabelle from daycare. They eat supper together at their house in Dieppe, then bring her home and tuck her into bed. This arrangement allows Annabelle’s parents to enjoy a weekly date night. Jeanne’s daughter, Alisha LeBlanc, says it’s about much more than childcare.

“They spend quality time with Annabelle,” she shares. “They do activities or go out and seek adventure. They are giving my daughter experiences Annabelle wouldn’t be exposed to at home, like sewing and baking and wood working. This is so important to me, as it will help her learn and grow. Annabelle is also learning that it’s important and healthy for parents to spend quality time together.”

Alisha’s sister, Kelsie-Ann Caissie, also benefits from their parents’ hands-on approach to grandparenting.

“Our children look forward to their monthly sleepovers with their cousin at my parents’ house,” says Kelsie-Ann. “It’s special, focused time for the grandkids and grandparents, as well as for us parents. I was lucky enough to be raised near my grandparents and they played a big role in shaping who I became, teaching me things about my family and themselves and greater life lessons. I want the same for my children. There is a special relationship between grandparent and grandchild and that needs to be fostered wherever possible.”

The Balcoms also regularly have their daughters and their families over for Sunday dinner, sending the gang home with leftovers. “Monday lunches are the best!” jokes Alisha.

“We try to make ourselves available whenever needed,” says Jeanne. “We enjoy watching their activities and cheering them on. We enjoy a weekly pick up with Annabelle and we aim for a monthly sleepover with all three grandchildren together. It’s a wonderful time, to see all three interacting. They love Grampie’s pancakes in the morning!”

“I cherish these moments as they are growing and changing at lightning speed,” she adds. “Pretty soon the day will come when they will find it boring to spend time with grandparents.”

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Geraline Van Agten regularly brings her grandson, Logan, to the weekly playgroup in Salisbury. Science says babysitting is good for grandparents. A study of German senior citizens found those who helped out with little ones had a 37% lower mortality risk. Researchers believe that the physical and mental activity, as well as the sense of purpose, helps reduce stress.

Geraline Van Agten and her husband, Andre, spend two days a week with their grandsons, Logan and James, on their farm outside Salisbury.

“They come to us and they’re very involved,” says Geraline. “They go in the Kubota with us, in the woods. They help do barn chores, stack wood. They play in the house. It’s a form of bonding for us.”

Often Geraline will bring the boys to the weekly playgroup in Salisbury, a gathering that generally includes as many grandparents as it does parents.

“[Playgroup] exposes you to new ideas, new toys, new parents, new parenting skills,” she says. “And I think it’s great for the grandchildren to socialize with other children.”

The grandparents enjoy socializing, too. Robin and Alta Adair care for their two grandchildren, Rowan and Annabelle, each week day. Alta says she enjoys having local play options for the grandkids, while Robin shares an interesting perspective on his current role.

“As our kids were growing up, I’d be away at work. I might see them in the morning, and I was involved in sports or whatever, but through the daytime, I didn’t get to experience that,” he says. “Now I’m able to actually be with the kids going off to preschool, to school. I’m getting to see that for the first time, what I missed over 30 years ago.”

“Even for me, when I did stay home with them, you didn’t have time to enjoy it,” adds Alta. “You kind of miss your own kids growing up, but you relive it with these ones.”

Geraline says being retired allows her to help out with her grandchildren, but she never wants to feel like the only option. “We told the children that we would babysit for them anytime when possible, but to also have a backup system.”

The Adairs say there wasn’t much discussion about childcare with their daughter and son-in-law. “We knew they both had to stay working. We’re both retired. It was an easy decision.”

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Robin and Alta Adair spend weekdays watching their grandson, Rowan, and his older sister. “As our kids were growing up, I’d be away at work through the day. Getting ready for school, coming home in the afternoon – I didn’t see that. So, in a way, this is all kind of new to me,” shares Robin. “I’m able to actually be with the kids and see them all learning and growing up and going off to preschool and going to school.”

Not everyone has parents who are able to participate in their grandchildren’s lives, but for those wanting to create relationships like this, all of the parents and grandparents say setting boundaries and communicating is key to making sure everyone feels part of the process.

“Have clear expectations, both ways,” says Alisha. “It’s important for me to know how much time my parents want or can spend with my daughter. If she needs to be picked up by 6pm, I won’t be late.” Alisha says this not only creates respect and trust, but also helps with the sense of guilt associated with leaving your child. “It’s important that you have time away from your child, for your own wellbeing, and for her growth as an individual. Shifting my mindset to ‘It’s selfish to not allow her one-on-one time with her grandparents’ helped me accept this.”

For her part, Jeanne says the key to a strong parent-grandparent relationship is respect.

“Honour how your children are raising their children,” says Jeanne. “Don’t give advice when it’s not asked for. Try to respect their rules. The way we raised our children may be quite different than how they choose to do so. When the grandkids are visiting, we have our rules, too. It seems to work well for all.” The respect must also come from the parents; Jeanne says she and Pat feel appreciated by their daughters, who value the chance to spend time alone or with their husbands while the children are visiting.

A version of this article originally appeared in Family 1st/Famille en premier, a free, bilingual quarterly parenting magazine published by Brunswick News, with Pickle Planet Moncton’s Jenna Morton as Contributing Editor.

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