Edmonton·Audio

How an Edmonton dad is removing the stigma of raising grandkids this Father's Day

Increasing numbers of grandfamilies have been attributed to rising addiction rates and the opioid crisis in particular.

'They give up an amazing amount of themselves out of pure love to support and raise their grandchildren'

This Father's Day, Edmonton father, grandfather, and author Gary Garrison will be on a cycle tour to raise money for the CASA Foundation. (Thandiwe Konguavi/CBC)

Gary Garrison never imagined he would be raising toddlers in his 60s.

But at a time when most people contemplate retirement, Garrison gleefully took on fatherhood, loving two grandkids and coaching them as they learned to read, write, play soccer and hockey, ride bicycles, play violin and dance.

When he's out with his two step-grandkids, the Edmonton father and grandfather — who is also author of the book Raising Grandkids: Inside skipped-generation families — has noticed he's not alone.

Rising addiction rates and the opioid crisis in particular have meant that grandfamilies are becoming more common, Garrison said in an interview on CBC Edmonton's Radio Active on Thursday.

But grandparents should put their shame aside, he said.

"They give up an amazing amount of themselves out of pure love to support and raise their grandchildren," Garrison said.

Stigma, shame

"Other people, society too, say, 'You're raising grandkids so obviously one of your kids messed up … Why do you think you're going to do better the second time around?'" said Garrison.

"There's an awful lot of shame that's laid on them, even though they're doing what I would consider heroic."

In Canada in 2011, about 72,000 grandparents reported raising their children's children in what Statistics Canada calls skip-generation families: households where the middle generation is out of the picture.

But Garrison believes the figure could be higher.

Governments are putting a higher priority on keeping at-risk children connected to their families rather than placing them in foster care, he said.

More financial support for these families is also contributing to the rise in grandfamilies, said Garrison.

'More than just remote figures'

Garrison also wishes that more grandfathers would take primary caregiver roles.

Despite more fathers taking parental leave nowadays, and stay-at-home dads becoming more common, Garrison said when it comes to skip-generation families, it's mostly grandmothers raising their grandkids.

"It's traditional that raising kids is primarily a women's responsibility. That's just the way most societies work," said Garrison. "I think there's a real connection between the way we devalue women's work and the absence of fathers in parenting and grandparenting."

"Kids need to see fathers as more than just remote figures," he said. "It's good for the grandfathers to teach by example that men do dishes, clean the house, change diapers, men play with kids — and that's a good thing."

This year, Father's Day falls on June 16. Garrison will be kicking off the weekend with a 900-kilometre bike ride from Jasper, Alta., to Haida Gwaii, B.C. His cycle tour, called Minds over Mountains, is to raise money for the Edmonton-based CASA Foundation, which supports families of children and adolescents who are separated from their parents.

About the Author

Thandiwe Konguavi is an award-winning journalist, born in Zimbabwe. She is an associate producer and reporter at CBC Edmonton. Reach her at thandiwe.konguavi@cbc.ca or on Twitter @TandiwayK (https://twitter.com/TandiwayK).

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