Thursday, September 21, 2017

Parenting as a grandmother: 'You're so much wiser'

By Louise Kinross

At age 63, Marna-Rose Minett has raised two children.

Now she’s raising a thirdher granddaughter Rayne, 7, who has cerebral palsy and lives with Marna-Rose and her husband Wayne.

Preparations are already underway for Halloween.

“Rayne loves dressing up in costumes,” says Marna-Rose, pulling up a picture on her phone of Rayne posing as “super girl.”

“This is a costume I originally made for my daughter,” she says, pointing to Rayne in a spotted leopard suit. “Rayne loves music and dancing. She has her own keyboard and two play guitars. She’s trying to talk me into riding lessons,” Marna-Rose says, looking at a photo of Rayne atop a pony. “She’s bright and sunny and personable. She charms a room. She’s really positive, and also very tenacious, when she wants to do something. She makes friends and she wants to be with people and do things.”

Marna-Rose became Rayne’s primary caregiver when Rayne was 18 months old. Rayne’s mother is very involved in her life, but needed to work on her addiction issues.

“You’re so much wiser,” Marna-Rose says, comparing parenting at this stage in her life to when her own children were young. “Things that would have made my husband and I crazy with our own kids are minor bumps in the road with Rayne. You have that perspective.”

While in some ways their parenting style is more laid back, Marna-Rose says they’ve been very hands-on with Rayne’s physiotherapy. “We realized how incredibly important that was for her over the long term, so we worked really hard on that. Maybe if we were younger we would have let that slack a bit.”

Rayne has stiff muscles, but “walks, runs, dances and skips,” Marna-Rose says. Her speech is delayed, and while her grandparents understand her at home, Rayne uses a communication device at school. She graduated last year from Grade 1 in the Bloorview School and is now in a contained Grade 2 class in a neighbourhood school. “We appreciate her milestones more,” Marna-Rose says. “I don’t know if it’s because she’s our granddaughter, or because of her disability.”

When Rayne was born, disability was not new to Marna-Rose. She had studied kinesiology and worked in group homes, including managing one for adults with cerebral palsy. She was also executive director of a program that offered respite to parents of children with severe disabilities.

“Oh good, I can handle this," Marna-Rose recalls thinking, when the doctor said Rayne had cerebral palsy. “That was my first thought.”

Marna-Rose says the biggest challenge of parenting as a grandparent is physical exhaustion. “I have a bad back, and I was already an older mom once, when I had my own kids. I really notice how I don’t have as much physical energy and strength. You get down on the floor, and it’s hard to get back up. If Rayne needed soothing I was sitting in a chair somewhere, I couldn’t carry her. It’s parenting with an aging body.” 

As a grandparent, Marna-Rose says she hasn't had to deal with any feelings of guilt about Rayne's disability. “I know that can get in the way for some parents.”

Advocacy comes more easily at this stage in her life, she says. “My son is gifted and I was used to advocating for him. Being a grandparent, I think I’m a little more reasoned with my advocacy. I’ve had experience dealing with the school system. I can step back a bit, and I have the words. I need more sleep, but I have better words!”

Marna-Rose and her husband investigated a support group for grandparents raising their grandchildren, but “decided we didn’t need it. Our support group of friends, even though we’re all older, is strong, our family was very supportive, and the Bloorview School was fabulous. Our daughter is still there 100 per cent for Rayne.”

Marna-Rose works full-time as an administrator and she and her husband find yoga a great way to re-energize. “One piece of advice I would give to other grandparents raising a grandchild is ‘Remember, you know how to do this. You can manage.’ Because they do. They’ve already raised their own kids, so they have the life experience to have their grandbaby full-time. Use your friends for support.”