Suzanne McLatchy isn’t your average grandparent.
She doesn’t fill the grandkids up with sugar and send them home. She doesn’t just visit on the weekends and birthdays. And she isn’t just a helpful hand to her adult children.
No, McLatchy is so much more than that. She is the primary caregiver for one of her five grandchildren, and she says it’s been quite the learning experience.
From changing diapers and re-building those baby-carrying muscles, to juggling bottles and formula, strollers and car seats — many of which have become more advanced in the past 20 years — life as grandparent can be very overwhelming.
“Exciting?” she says, shaking her head. “It’s exhausting. It really is.”
McLatchy gained custody of her infant grandson, Sabastien, shortly after he was born five months ago. And in doing so, she became part of a growing trend in this country; the recently-released Statistics Canada report shows that the number of grandparents raising grandchildren has risen from 3.3 per cent nationwide to 4.8 per cent over the last 10 years.
But those are still small numbers, and living in a small town like Agassiz, McLatchy says she feels isolated in her situation.
“No one else my age is raising babies,” she says. And in all honesty, she adds, she didn’t expect to be either.
“This was a big shock,” she says.
But her children needed her help. And even more so, her grandchildren needed her.
In addition to being the custodial parent of Sabastien, she lives with one of her sons and his young daughter. Another son and his daughter live in the same building, close enough so that McLatchy can help with her as well. Two more grandchildren live in another town.
A lot of the parenting skills came back naturally, she says. But other things have changed dramatically.
Rather than feel entirely alone, McLatchy reached out into the community. She found the Agassiz-Harrison Family Place, a drop-in centre that runs various programs for families.
“A lot of these programs we didn’t have in my day,” she says, and many people in the community have offered her support and baby items to help with the financial costs of raising a baby.
“You wouldn’t believe how many people have helped me,” she says. “I feel it’s really made a difference with Sabastien.”
Of course, his bright blue eyes and impossibly chubby cheeks make him a crowd pleaser among the parents who come to Family Place, giving McLatchy a short respite from holding him.
Opening herself to being a part of the Family Place environment has even given Sabastien a good start on his education, despite his young age.
“He already has his own library card,” McLatchy says.
Of course, there’s one thing that most grandparents are endowed with that can help with childrearing — patience. And sometimes, patience and an old-fashioned go at things are the better answer.
“I have more patience now, but I do get tired easier,” she says.
And then, she says, there are things that have advanced in a good way.
“Someone gave me a Baby Bullet,” she says, so when Sabastien is old enough to eat more solid foods, she can whip them up quickly.
To help celebrate National Family Week, the Agassiz-Harrison Early Childhood Development Committee is inviting grandparents to come to the Family Place on Monday, Oct. 1.
They are holding a Grandparent Connection Tea, which will be a chance for all grandparents to connect, whether they are primary caregivers, unofficial babysitters or just want to get involved in their grandchildren’s lives.
The tea begins at 2:30 p.m., at 7272 Morrow Road.
To RSVP, call 604-796-0313 or 604-796-9510.