SUMMERSIDE — Joan Newell never imagined that, in her mid 60s, she would become an only ‘parent’ to two young girls.
But, in 2005, after the death of her daughter, Jacqueline, the Summerside senior was suddenly left to care for granddaughters, Paige, then three, and LaShya, four.
After her daughter’s passing, the girls’ father struggled to care for his daughters until one day when he showed up at Newell’s door.
“I thank God that he came to that realization,” said Newell. “I thought these two little ones need you. I had these two little precious angels looking at me to give them the love, the guidance they needed.”
Now, almost eight years later, the girls — 10 and 11 — and thriving, doing well in school, taking swimming lessons and becoming quite good bowlers.
But getting to this point hasn’t been easy, with obstacles such as housing and getting financial help to support her granddaughters.
“It was a big adjustment,” admitted Newell. “I used to say… I wish there was a group to go to. I thought if only they had a group for us seniors raising kids because it has changed, everything’s changed. It’s not the same as when I raised my kids. I’m dealing with stuff that I never dealt with.”
It’s a story becoming all too common — grandparents bringing up their grandchildren or actively involved in their upbringing.
That’s why the Grandparents Group, a collaborative effort of East Prince Seniors Initiative, Trinity United Church minister, Rev. Andrew Richard, and Youth Justice Services, was recently established.
The group, which meets Monday mornings at Credit Union Place, provides support to these grandparents and offers information sessions on things such as cyber bullying, coping with becoming a ‘parent’ again and, most recently, a session on what to know about drugs.
Eight grandparents attended the first session. Last week, there were 13.
“It was more than we thought,” said Gloria Schurman, executive director of East Prince Seniors Initiative (ESPI). “Not everybody attending has their grandkids living with them full-time. Some of them are just very involved and they are providing support.”
Three sessions have been held to date.
Newell has found the information helpful and welcomes the support of other grandparents who are in a situation similar to hers.
“It’s been wonderful,” said the 71-year-old. “I worry about the girls every day. My last prayer at night is, don’t take me these girls need me. We’re needed so badly. We’re not just needed to fill in. I’m all they got.”
Lil Carson has been attending the weekly sessions.
She helped raise her grandson, now 26.
“Kids need a lot of support. They need more support now than they ever did before,” said Carson. “You need to keep them busy, praise them in what they do, give them that confidence. They need it.”
Both women admit that parenting in their golden years isn’t easy.
With social media, technology and all the perils that go along with it, the women, like other grandparents, are learning along with their grandchildren.
“Computers are something that I have no idea about. I still don’t. I don’t have a computer,” said Newell.
But with her granddaughters having access to computers at school and at the local library, she felt it was time to become familiar with technology.
Newell found the session on cyber bullying to be eye opening and much needed.
Dave Ellis, a youth outreach worker with Youth Justice, and Summerside Police Services officer Ron MacLean facilitated the session.
“They showed the group the exact presentation that the kids get,” said Schurman. “It was really good to see what the kids are getting.”
Bullying is an issue that Newell and her granddaughters have had to deal with.
“They think bullying is hitting someone or pushing them off the slide. It’s not just that,” she added. “I don’t think they have the full knowledge that when you omit a person from the group because they don’t fit in, that’s bullying.”
The future of the group is uncertain.
“It’s going to depend on the participants. Next week is the last formal official group here (at Credit Union Place),” said Schurman. “This was a great place to start out with but now the option is available, if they want, to keep going.
“The biggest thing was to get the support system in place.”
For Carson and Newell, the hope is that the group continues.
“When I had my grandson with me, there was no such thing as a grandparent’s support group,” said Carson. “You didn’t have anyone to talk to. At least here, there is somebody to listen and who understands.”