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27 Jan, Friday
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Montreal Families

Community supports grandparents raising children

Like many grandparents, Linda Turner is tuned into what her grandkids like (Miley Cyrus of Hannah Montana) and don’t like (homework). But Turner also knows what they will be doing tomorrow, what happened at school and the names of most of their friends. The reason? Turner is rearing her granddaughters – alone.

About five years ago, the girls’ parents — Turner’s son and daughter-in-law — moved away, unable and unwilling to continue caring for their two preschool-age children. So Turner stepped in, eventually gaining legal custody of her grandchildren. She has since adopted them.

While her love for the children is tremendous, the task of caring for them hasn’t always been easy. Instead of dreaming of retirement, the 58-year-old is making lunches, checking homework and trying to make sure the girls grow up to be responsible adults.

So a few years ago, Turner searched the Internet to find out if there were other grandparents in the same situation. There were — and many of them were finding support and help through an organization called Cangrands. Founded 10 years ago, this non-profit organization helps caregivers who are raising grandchildren or young people from their extended family.

According to the organization, 62,500 Canadian children are being raised by a grandparent or other family members, many on a fixed or very low income. Sadly, the children often arrive at a grandparent’s home after being neglected or abused or watching their parents succumb to addictions. In some cases, grandparents have had to hire lawyers and go to court to keep their grandchildren out of foster care.

Through Cangrands, people not only find information about their legal rights and responsibilities but also discover a supportive community that understands the challenges, frustrations and joys to be found in raising grandchildren. The group’s website includes a forum where people can post questions and chat. As well, there are local chapters across Canada that host meetings and events.

Two years ago, Turner launched a Montreal chapter of Cangrands in a bid to help others in the same position. “I wanted to reach out to other grandparents who might be lonely or feel isolated,” she says. Now a dozen members regularly meet, talk and share the experiences they have with the younger generation.

For Turner, that means finding ways to help her grandchildren understand and live without their parents. While Turner’s son visits the kids about once a year, the girls’ mother hasn’t seen them in five years.

It’s hard, she says, “when you give 110 per cent and they come to you with tears in their eyes and say: ‘I miss my mum and dad.’”

But those dark moments don’t last too long, she quickly adds. “The light moments happen all day long,” she says. “There’s so much hugging and kissing and laughing. I love the kids so much.”

She tries to take a lighthearted approach, marking the parents’ birthdays by singing “Happy Birthday” with the girls and sending wishes to mum and dad, wherever they are.

And, she adds, raising her grandchildren has given her a new direction in life. “Not everybody goes through life knowing what their purpose is,” she says. “At Cangrands, we know what ours is.” In fact, Turner says she wouldn’t trade being a single grandparent for anything.

“Your friends aren’t really interested in seeing Disney on Ice,” she says. “But then you develop a whole new group of friends. With Cangrands, we do things together with the kids. For them, it’s good to see that they’re not the only ones who aren’t being raised by their mother and father.”

For more information about Cangrands, call Linda Turner at (514) 733-4046 or visit www.cangrands.com.

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