TORONTO – With their only child grown up with a family of her own, Louise Hutchison and Dave Sharp were enjoying the freedom of being empty-nesters: travelling, getting together with friends and, of course, visiting with their grandchildren.But three years ago, the Alberta couple’s lives changed dramatically when they went from being grandparents to full-time caregivers of their three young granddaughters after their mother was charged with impaired driving and disappeared from her children’s lives.“It wasn’t what we were planning, because we had been through it,” Hutchison conceded in an interview from her home in Airdrie, near Calgary. “We went from an empty nest to a full house again.“It was actually fun being the grandparents because we could take them and we could have a lot of fun with them,” Hutchison, who works as a company manager, said of her granddaughters Coralynn, 9, Riley, 6, and Hayleigh, almost 4.“And we now have to be more the parents. It’s just not the same, right?”The couple and the girls are what’s known as a skip-generation family, a phenomenon that’s on the rise in Canada as households depart from the traditional two-parent configuration in favour of other caregivers, such as grandparents, step-parents or other siblings.In new 2016 census figures released Wednesday, Statistics Canada said three in 10 Canadian children — 30.3 per cent — were living in either a lone-parent family, a stepfamily or without both of their parents.Of those, some 32,520 children aged 14 and under across Canada were living exclusively with grandparents in 2016, up from about 25,245 in 2001, the census found — an increase of about 29 per cent.“A skip-generation family is where a grandparent is the primary adult in a child’s life, when no parent is present,” explained Nora Spinks, CEO of the Vanier Institute of the Family.“And that parent may be absent because they’ve passed away, they may be somewhere else in the world or they may be incapable of parenting. So they might be experiencing mental illness or they might be incarcerated.”Children living in a private household without their parents were most prevalent in the territories, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, Statistics Canada reported. Between three and six per cent of children 14 and younger were either living with grandparents, other relatives or as foster children in those regions in 2016, the numbers show.In every other province, the proportion was two per cent or less.Hutchinson and Sharp, both 45, are keenly aware of their disconnect with typically older grandparents, as well as with parents of children who are their granddaughters’ friends.But the biggest challenge is ensuring the girls are happy and emotionally stable, said Hutchinson, describing how she learned through their counselling sessions that her alcoholic daughter would leave them hungry and alone in the car while “she had sex with her boyfriend.”Still, despite the obvious challenges of raising a second family, there are also many rewards.“There’s a lot of joy and there’s also a lot of peace of mind because I don’t have sleepless nights worrying about where they are or what condition they’re in.“And it is great joy. I know my husband feels very much the same way. We’re getting an opportunity to be a strong part of their lives, even though it’s in a different capacity.”Skip-generation families come in many different shapes and sizes and cross all socioeconomic and ethnocultural boundaries, said Spinks.Grandparents may have a deep, vibrant relationship with their grandchildren or a weak and tenuous one, she said. The age of both the adult and the grandchild can colour the nature of that relationship and how a newly configured family melds together — or not.“When a grandparent steps in and it’s an infant or a toddler or a pre-schooler, that can be a very different experience than when a grandparent steps in with a teenager or a tween,” she said.“Where a relationship does exist between the child and the grandparent, it may require renegotiation or restructuring,” said Spinks, pointing out that a change in their family makeup and where they live — as well as parental loss — can spark emotional, behavioural and psychological reactions in children, who may also have experienced trauma.“It’s one thing to go over to Grandma’s for a Sunday afternoon or to be there for a couple of weeks in the summer. It’s another when that grandparent assumes the responsibility of raising a child.”Colleen Longhouse and husband Michael Dawson have been rearing her four-year-old grandson Landon since he was almost two. After a lengthy and expensive court battle, she was granted full guardianship in April 2016 because Landon had been living in hellish conditions with her daughter, a heroin addict with multiple mental health issues, and his father, a violent repeat offender who has been incarcerated dozens of times.“I raised my children and now is supposed to be the time in your life you can sit back and relax and enjoy your grandchildren. But you also have a bit more freedom to do the things and interests that you had earlier in your life that you couldn’t do because you had your own children,” said Longhouse, an elementary school teacher from New Lowell, Ont., west of Barrie, who admitted she can get angry and frustrated over the unexpected turn her life has taken.“My husband and I rarely go out because Landon suffers from attachment disorder … There’s been a lot of struggle for us as a couple.”Even so, Longhouse, 54, said she wouldn’t change anything given the choice again.Landon, who had been “very traumatized,” has made tremendous progress and “has surpassed what anyone thought he would be able to do,” said his grandmother.“He is such a joy, he’s got such a great personality. We do lots of things and he does make us laugh,” said Longhouse, adding that she and her husband want to formally adopt him, and they have the financial resources to make sure his future is secure.“So the joy is knowing that he’s safe, the joy is knowing that he’s going to have a chance.”At 72, Sharon Green is the sole parent in a “skip-skip” generation family: she has legal custody of her three-year-old great-granddaughter Avery, whose mother tried to give her away as an infant to a distant relative on the Six Nations of the Grand River reserve, where she lives. Neither Green’s son — the little girl’s grandfather — nor either of her grandmothers was able to care for the child.“One of the problems is Ontario Works only gives me $263 a month (for a dependent child) and I’m a pensioner, of course,” she said by phone from her home in Cloyne, Ont., northeast of Toronto. “It can be difficult. I rely on my daughters quite a bit to help me.”Keeping up with a three-year-old can be taxing even for twenty-something mothers, but Green said she’s in “pretty good shape” for her age and she and her great-granddaughter “do quite a bit together.”“Every day, she’s full of energy. She loves to dance to music,” Green confided as Avery squealed with laughter in the background while banging away on a pot. “She’s just bright and happy and smiles and gives me hugs all the time and tells me she loves me.“There’s just so much joy with this child.”— Follow @SherylUbelacker on Twitter
CALGARY — The energy industry has revealed what it wants to see from Alberta politicians as they gear up for a spring election.The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers says politicians should enact policies that will double the industry’s growth rate by 2020.It wants tax cuts, shorter regulatory times and government support for six new energy pipelines.There is no mention of a price on carbon or a cap on oilsands emissions, both of which were brought in by Alberta’s current NDP government.Association president Tim McMillan says the International Energy Agency predicts oil and gas demand is on track to grow and he believes Canada’s well-regulated oilpatch should be filling those markets.The agency also forecasts a three-degree rise in global temperatures by 2040 — well past the threshold at which scientists say dangerous climate change impacts will occur.The Canadian Press
APTN National NewsA First Nation on Prince Edward Island hopes to restore depleted salmon stocks.Farming on the island has polluted rivers over the years.Resulting declining salmon and trout stocks.
Larissa BurnoufAPTN NewsIn the spirit of Christmas, the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) is giving back to people living in urban centres in Saskatchewan.More than 900 kilograms of traditional meat harvested in the province is being donated to several organizations and [email protected]