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Grandparents, Take a Bow!

Ever since Thanksgiving, I have been thinking about grandparents. On that long weekend I had the opportunity to see grandparents up close.

The one closest to home is the connection between my adult daughter and my elderly father. They have a special rapport and a way of being together that is quite different from my relationship with my father.

I also got to spend time with my closest friend and her three beautiful grandchildren, one teenager and two tweenies. This connection was a bit different again. some of the grandparent flexibility but with a parental texture.

All around me are many different styles and relationships from distance grandparenting to raising grandchildren as primary caregivers.

Stats Canada reports that in 2001 there were just under six million grandparents in our country. The most likely age for becoming a grandparent is in the 55 to 64 range. More women are grandparents than men, which may seem a little odd but it is due to the fact that women tend to marry younger and they also live longer than men, so they have more grandparenting years to give. About 70% of grandparents are married, so that brings a considerable number of grandfathers into the circle. One rather interesting stat is that most grandparents have an average of five grandchildren. The numbers tend to come from different offspring, so it is quite common for grandparents to have multiple relationships with their grandchildren based on proximity and parental status.

In our current society, fewer children are being born into families and family composition is drastically changing. Family breakdown leading to divorce and separation is changing the role of the grandparent. Custody issues can interfere with the grandparent-child relationship and remarriage brings new family members, including new grandparents, into the picture. This is not necessarily a negative, since additional people in the family system can result in more extended family. Grandparents with a long-term marriage may also bring some stability to the family system, as well.

BC has the highest rate of multigenerational families in which grandparents reside in the home with their adult children and their grandchildren. What is also a growing phenomenon is that of grandparents raising grandchildren. This is the case for one out of 250 children in Canada.

In some cases, grandparents are raising a teenager who has left the parental home. This can keep that youth attached to home and family longer instead of couch surfing or living on the street. Younger children may find themselves living with grandparents because of the parent's inability to care for the child. This may be due to substance abuse, mental-health issues, teen pregnancy, or abuse and neglect.

As a result, grandparents are raising some of the most at-risk children in our society. This is a sobering thought. In 65% of homes where grandparents are the primary caregivers, they are also the primary financial providers at a time when their income may be dropping.