It’s Grandma who lays down the rules in Rissa Stolar’s home.
“Grandmas don’t always just make you cookies,” Stolar said, busting the knitting-needle-happy, spoiling grandparent stereotype. “It’s more like: make your own cookies, in my case,” she said with laugh.
Stolar’s maternal forebear, Lori Fraser, chuckled along with her 16-year-old granddaughter as they shared stories in their Red Deer kitchen recently.
“I’m not really a Grandma in this case,” Fraser, 59, said. “She doesn’t go to Grandma’s house for the afternoon; she lives with me so it’s a different concept.”
Fraser and Stolar’s situation isn’t out of the ordinary and the traditionally-held nuclear family model has long lost its hold on the status quo.
Across the continent, more and more grandchildren are being raised by those two generations above them.
It’s termed a skipped-generation household.
There were over 40,000 grandchildren under the age of 18 living with a grandparent with no parent present in the household, according to the 2011 Canadian census. Between 1991 and 2001, the number went up by 20 per cent.
The census found 58 per cent of skipped-generation Canadian children are being raised by a grandparent couple, while the rest are being raised by a single grandparent.
In the United States, 5.5 million children under 18 were living with a grandparent in 2011. Nearly half of them were under age six.
Stolar has been with Fraser since her birth, when they were living in Nanaimo, B.C., as her own mother, Fraser’s youngest daughter, was unable to look after her. Fraser is raising Stolar alone.
“It’s not what I thought I’d be doing at this age and it’s not easy — there’s no financial support for grandparents raising kids in Canada,” Fraser said. “But I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s better for Rissa this way. … We garden together, travel together in the summers. We built a fence together; Rissa knows how to use a table saw.”
Stolar echoes her grandmother that it’s no walk in the park but they make it work.
“It’s not really the same as having two parents because we’re living on one income,” said Stolar, who has dreams of getting into forensics.
For now, Stolar dances (ballet, jazz, lyrical — you name it) five nights a week and every other Saturday. She also recently started curling again.
To keep up, Fraser works at the curling centre during the day and has her own virtual assistant business, SAVY Business Solutions, which she dedicates time to in the evenings.
“Depending on your situation, it can be a struggle. Like, I rent because I have to. … The cost of raising a child has gone up substantially since I was raising my girls. It would be nice if there was some program offering financial help,” Fraser said.
There is an online resource, CANGRANDS, offering support and answers to legal questions for grandparents raising grandchildren. In 2012, the British Columbia government launched a new Grandparents Raising Grandchildren support line as well as email support. Alberta offers no specific aid to parenting grandparents but Family Services does mention skipped-generation households as one of the many types of families they work with.
Fraser, who has three other grandchildren, has helped raise 22 children through the years, for different pockets of time, including two daughters of her own.
“I foster parented in Ontario for awhile. I had the same foster kids back to me three times. And I looked after an ex-boyfriend’s children for about a year while he got back on his feet. In Nanaimo, I had a friend who was going through some abuse issues and her kids ended up staying with me as well for some months.”
Stolar doesn’t feel alone; she knows others in school being raised by their grandparents and her uncle Paul was brought up by his grandparents in Prince Edward Island.
“I call her Nan (Fraser) so sometimes I’ll have to explain who I’m talking about and others will go: ‘Oh you live with your grandma?’ and I’ll be like ‘Yeah, yeah I do,’” Stolar said with a smile.