When Val and Bryce Nicolls became primary caregivers for two of their grandchildren, they were both in their 60s and still working.
Having raised three children of their own, and an older grandchild, they were ready for some time out.
“We’d planned a bucket list of trips and a quiet house,” Bryce says.
However, stepping up to provide a stable home for the children, now aged 13 and 12, was too important.
“It’s the cards we’ve been dealt, so we have to get on with it,” Val says. “The upheavals when they initially moved in with us caused stress, but they have settled and are good kids.”
The couple, who live in Manly, say that the four years since the children permanently moved in have given them a lot of blessings.
Bryce says when their own children were young, he was very involved in building up his business and probably didn’t see as much of them as he should have.
“This time I have been able to get more involved,” he says.
Val says childrearing is more tiring when you are in your 70s, but she and Bryce still find time to pursue other interests and hobbies.
Also, the children keep them engaged in many community activities such as school galas and sports, and have made them more technology savvy. “We know all the names of their favourite soccer players,” she says.
Bryce still kicks a ball around with the kids after tea, but says it might be for 15 minutes instead of an hour as his energy levels are not what they once were.
He says the additional cost of raising children is hard for grandparents on a fixed income. “It was $800 each for school fees this year, as well as the cost of computers and uniforms on top,” he says.
He says the Unsupported Child Benefit has been helpful.
For now, the couple’s former Friday ‘date nights’ have gone by the wayside, with babysitters non-existent.
“We have less time to spend with each other, our own children and other grandchildren,” Bryce says. “They worry that we are getting worn out before our time.”
Jennie McKeown says it’s a mixed blessing to be back on playground duty again.
Raising grandchildren a family effort
Jennie McKeown of Red Beach and husband Robert raised five boys – the youngest were aged 13 and 16 when, six years ago, they took on fulltime care of their grandson.
“I was sitting in a meeting and I got a call to say my grandchild, who was six weeks old then, would be put into care unless I came to get him,” Jennie says.
She says the decision to take on the role of parent to a grandchild was made by the whole family. “It was a commitment we made together and everyone has played their part,” she says.
At the time, she was ready to go back to work, but doesn’t believe in working when you have preschoolers.
So it was back to the school run and trips to the zoo, Rainbow’s End and the museum.
“Although I feel old among the parents, children are a great incentive to get you out and doing things,” Jennie says.
Along the way there has been the stress and expense of legal battles and dealing with the ongoing effects of the child’s difficult start in life. “It seems so unfair that when grandparents step up, they have to pay legal fees, which can be huge, just to keep their grandchild from unsafe access,” she says. “Things like that keep you awake worrying at 2am.”
Jennie says her 80-year old mother has been a great help, but getting some time out has been one of the biggest challenges. “We were given a couple of weekends’ respite thanks to the Hibiscus Coast Grandparents Parenting Grandchildren group and that was wonderful. You get so tired and we needed a proper break.”
She says despite the difficulties, parenting a grandchild was the right decision. “We would have missed out on so much joy – the birthday parties, Easter Egg hunts and Santa,” she says. “As grandparents, we know how fast that childhood goes by and we want to fully enjoy it while it lasts.”
Help at hand
All the grandparents in this story sing the praises of the Hibiscus Coast Grandparents Parenting Grandchildren group, which provides support, information, advice and activities for grandparents who are the primary caregivers for grandchildren.
The group is also a chance to meet others in the same position. “It’s so important to know you’re not doing it on your own,” Val says. Info: email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 426 7595.