British Columbia·Point of View

Many families have welcomed grandparents into their 'bubble' — but not without risk

COVID-19 can have devastating effects on seniors. But for some grandparents, maintaining the bond with grandchildren outweighs the risks of potential infection.

Despite the risks, grandparents want to see their families

Many families are grappling with the decision to see grandparents, particularly with the return to school approaching, which could increase exposure to the coronavirus. (Shutterstock)

This story is part of Amy Bell's Parental Guidance column, which airs on CBC Radio One's The Early Edition.

With a lot of restrictions lifted, many families have welcomed grandparents into their bubbles — and they don't even have to use those weird, shower curtain contraptions to hug! 

But it doesn't come without worry. COVID-19 is still out there, and can have devastating — and deadly — effects on seniors; with closer contact, there's greater chance they could be affected.

My kids didn't see their grandparents for about three months when everything initially shut down in March, and they've spent their entire lives seeing them a couple of times a week. Even now, when we see each other, it's mainly outside to keep the risk of us unknowingly infecting them as low as possible. 

But for many grandparents, that's a risk they are willing to take in order to maintain such a special bond.

Sue Pawels provided care for her 18-month-old grandson when his parents first went back to work and, even though he's now in daycare, she happily reports for grandma duty as much as possible, despite any concerns. 

"I try not to let fear overtake me ... I just can't let the opportunity to be a grandmother pass me by." 

It's not uncommon for many generations of one family to be living under the same roof — and that means there's no isolating away from the grandparents to keep them safe.

Akash Sablock lives with his wife, two sons and his parents and says they've had to be very careful about exposing his elderly parents to the virus. They're still not sure if they'll send their sons back to school, as that opens the household up to a lot more exposure, but they also realize the lack of social interaction may have long-term effects for everyone.

For now, it's more important to keep his parents safe — and the whole family is committed to that. 

"When we're all on the same page it makes it easier," says Sablock. "Some parents are like, 'Just come over for a drink'... and the risk is higher than the reward." 

Beryl Cooke hugged family members through a plastic shield on her 80th birthday last month. Families have difficult decisions to make about including grandparents in their bubbles. (Brady Strachan/CBC)

But certain families are far more vulnerable, with grandparents not only helping care for their grandchildren, but actually raising them.

In B.C., there are more than 13,000 children whose parents are either unable to care for them, or have passed away. These kids are being raised by their grandparents, and sometimes even their great-grandparents.

Jane Bouey from the Parent Support Services Society of B.C., says these grandparents have already lost so much — and are having to face the pandemic knowing that if COVID-19 is passed to them, it could devastate their families further. 

"These kids have overwhelming faced trauma," says Bouey. "They've already lost a lot in their lives and the thought of losing their grandparents is really, truly, terrifying."

Many of these families have lower incomes, which means they can't always afford the technology needed to do online learning from home. So they have no choice but to send the kids to school in September — and hope for the best. 

We don't know how long we'll be living this way. 

While COVID-19 can be deadly for older generations, loneliness and isolation have their own lasting effects, and a lot of families will continue to struggle when it comes to making the right choice.

The return to school is just one more worry to factor in, but hopefully, if we all do our part to kick COVID-19 to the curb, our older generations won't be kept at arm's length from the people they so desperately want to hug. 


Amy Bell is a digital contributor to CBC. She can be heard weekdays on The Early Edition as the traffic and weather reporter and parenting columnist.


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