When Grandma has to raise the kids: Caring for your children’s children challenges stamina, health and finances

Her grandkids’ names are Kenny and Vicky, but Bonnie Buxton also affectionately refers to them as “the Doodads.”

The nickname goes back almost six years, to when the children first came to live with Grandma and Grandpa, at ages 3 and 2.

“Whenever we discovered a mess of some kind and asked who did it, one of them would say, `I dood dat,'” explains Buxton, 68.

She can’t talk for long about charming, athletic Kenny and red-haired, theatrical Vicky without giggling. Good thing, too. Having a sense of humour is vital when you suddenly find yourself raising children in the golden years.

Rushing to swimming lessons and Cubs, sinking on aging knees into those miniature chairs for parent-teacher interviews, and scraping glitter paint off the kitchen floor is tough during your 60s.

This month, 60-year-old Ranjit Hayer of Calgary gave birth to twins, prompting headlines about the ethics of childrearing at that stage of life. She and her husband Jagir, also 60, had travelled to India for in-vitro fertilization after 43 years of trying to have a family.

While being a grandparent isn’t quite the same thing, those who have braved toddler tantrums, sleep deprivation and mounds of laundry during their seventh decade are quick to say that yes, age does make a difference.

Buxton, who has never regretted rearing her grandkids, now 9 and 7, couldn’t believe the news. “I thought she was nuts. Why would anybody voluntarily do this?”

To St. Catharines grandfather Terry Hrankowski, “It seems everything is doubled because of your age. I sure hope they (the Hayers) have a lot of help.”

Hrankowski, 67, and his wife Barbara, 64, have spent the past seven years caring for their two granddaughters and a grandson, ages 9 through 14, after their daughter and her husband split up. The younger two recently returned to live with their mother, who has always been involved in their lives.

The couple misses having all three full-time and wouldn’t have done it any other way. But it takes its toll.

With age comes wisdom, experience and perspective. Recent research has found older parents may be more emotionally prepared for the stresses of parenthood, have stronger social support networks and tend to be more involved with their children.

But those raising kids in their 60s also deal with less physical stamina, a double generation gap and an acute sense of mortality. The odds of being the only caregiver also increase because of health risks.

According to the Canadian Association of Retired Persons (CARP), about 60,000 Canadian grandparents are caring for grandchildren; half are single. The 2006 census found roughly 43,000 Canadian children up to age 19 were being raised by grandparents.

Financial stress is a huge issue for many and CARP is among those pushing Ontario to provide more financial assistance for grandparents living on fixed incomes that aren’t intended to support children. Many receive much less than a foster parent would get. Money isn’t the only challenge, however.

There’s technology to keep up with; grown-ups are expected to be much more involved in schooling and homework than they were two generations ago.