BC Council for Families Blog: Growing Numbers of Grandparents: How their Role is Evolving

Photo Credit: Unsplash User  Nathan Anderson

Photo Credit: Unsplash User Nathan Anderson

A recent BC Council for Families blog post by Erica Simmonds references Statistics Canada data showing that the number of grandparents in Canada is growing faster than the general population, with a 1.4 million increase in the ten years between 2001 and 2011.

Simmonds quotes Nora Spinks, CEO of the Vanier Institute of the Family, “Grandparents have always played an important role in the lives of their grandchildren.  Even across great distances, grandparents are able to communicate with their grandchildren via email and Skype, to stay in contact, feel connected and be a part of milestones moments and everyday life.”

The blog notes that studies link grandparents’ involvement with children’s wellbeing, and many grandparents become influential figures in children’s development, although family circumstances and geographical influences create a wide variety of styles and levels of inter-generational interaction in families.  The blog references Bernice Neugarten, a gerontologist from the University of Chicago, who classified grandparents into five different roles: 

  1. Formal grandparent: Are not overly involved, but are interested in their grandchildren’s lives and provide some care
  2. Fun Seeker: Are mainly focused on the fun aspects and activities of being a grandparent
  3. Surrogate Parent: Are a main caregiver
  4. Reservoir of Wisdom: Pass advice down to the younger generation
  5. Distant Figure: Are in infrequent contact, and may only see their grandchildren on special occasions

Simmonds points out that:

  • According to a 2012 study, 60% of grandparents provided child care to their grandchildren in the past 10 years.
  • An increasing number of grandparents are living with their grandchildren, either because they want to, or because they need to. Eight per cent of grandparents live with their grandchildren – a 23% increase from 2001 to 2011. A much higher percentage of grandparents in Inuit (22.3%), First Nations (14.4%) and recent immigrant (20.5%) families, as well as families from South East Asia who speak Punjabi (44%), live with their grandchildren. 
  • Of the grandparents living with their grandchildren, 12% are skip generation households, meaning that they are assuming responsibility for raising their grandchildren.  Nora Spinks says grandparents may take on parenting roles in situations where parents are absent for reasons such as employment, military deployment or incarceration.

A key point raised by the article is that an estimated 11,000 children in BC are being raised full-time by their grandparents, or other relatives, and “grandparents who raise their grandchildren have higher rates of fatigue and depression than other grandparents, and are often faced with complicated legal and financial challenges”.

Grandparents are also increasingly being turned to for financial assistance, both for their own adult children and for their grandchildren, and the largest intergenerational transfer or wealth in Canadian history, expected to transfer across generation over the next decade, will impact families and the economy.

Simmonds also notes, however, that despite this active caregiving role and financial support role grandparents are playing in families, their role as ‘wisdom-keepers’ is less sought.  “With a plethora of parenting books and resources available for new parents, along with changes in child rearing practices, grandparents are often no longer seen as a source of parenting wisdom…Conflict over grandchildren is most likely to occur over sleep, food and discipline.” 

Facts about Grandparents in Canada*

  • There were 7.1 million number of grandparents in Canada in 2011 – an increase of 1.4 million since 2001
  • The median age people become grandparents is 55
  • Grandparents will be grandparents for an average of 24.3 years
  • Grandparents have an average of 4.2 grandkids
  • 8% of grandparents live in the same household as their grandchildren, and 12% of those households are ‘skip generation’ meaning they are raising their grandchildren
  • 13% of care recipients in Canada are grandparents, and 12% of caregivers are grandparents
  • 13.4% of seniors are in the paid workforce – up from 7.1% in 1995

*Source: A Snapshot of Grandparents in Canada, The Vanier Institute of the Family

The blog ends with a link to a petition to Improve Support for Kinship Caregivers: Sign the petition