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The longest summer

Handing back kids to their parents at the end of the summer holidays will be a secret relief for many grandparents, after days of non-stop fun, energy, feeding and love.

For some grandparents, however, caregiving is a full-time job and the children are already home.

Jonathan and Margaret Hooker co-ordinate the Wairarapa branch of Grandparents Raising Grandchildren [GRG], a national charity offering support and advice.

Having already raised four children of their own in the 1970s-80s, in 2019 the Hookers found themselves the primary carers of their two grandsons, then aged four years old and six months old.

Now aged 10 and five, the boys have known little else except living full-time with loving grandparents.

While the Hookers would not have it any other way, the situation has not been without challenges, especially on a social level.

“It can be quite isolating,” Jonathan told Midweek.

“People our age have grandchildren, but after a visit, can send them home. They say to us: ‘We’ve just had the grandchildren overnight and we’re exhausted’.”

Now aged in their late 60s and early 70s, the Hookers can’t just “zip off” and do things socially.

“So we tend not to be invited to things – and it isn’t even a conscious act – but we don’t fit the social scenes. Parents with children the boys’ ages are much younger than us and friends our own age have adult children.”

The couple said respite for grandparents caring full-time for children is the greatest gift.

“It’s the energy levels and being able to get out and do things,” Jonathan said. “The body doesn’t bounce back the same way.”

Technology is the biggest difference in parenting today, he said. “It is a battle to get them off screens. The 10-year-old is just at that age. They seem born with a chip in them which helps them intuitively understand technology.

“There are common language and behaviours that were completely foreign to Margaret and me during our first round of raising kids.”

The Hookers do use technology to keep the boys in touch with family in Dunedin, Auckland and the US, while staying mindful of scams and aware of online activity. Jonathan also uses technology for his work, so stays current on that level too.

Today’s education system has been tricky for the Hookers to settle into and they describe themselves as “old school”.

“The education system is different, we’re not entirely sure about some aspects of the system, but it is what it is,” Jonathan said.

“We parent the old-fashioned way as much as we can; we see many other children given rights, yet not understanding the responsibilities that come with those rights.

“Some children rule the roost and the boundaries are more blurred than they were.”

The Hookers’ Christian faith has much to do with their desire to help and raise vulnerable children and they have fostered and adopted children in past decades. Jonathan’s previous experience as a police officer and Margaret’s in nursing have given them valuable skills. They consider themselves lucky to have been able to take on day-to-day care of their grandsons.

“We are financially stable, but it isn’t the same for some of our families in GRG,” Jonathan said.

About 60 Wairarapa families are known to GRG.

Not including the Māori tradition of children being raised by someone other than their birth parents [whangai], family breakdown is the primary cause of grandparents raising grandchildren.

Contributing factors may include addiction, mental or physical illness, or the death or imprisonment of a parent.

GRG New Zealand estimates that more than 17,000 children are in the care of their grandparents. However, the charity welcomes any family member caring for a child who is not their own and who may be aunts, uncles, sisters or brothers.

“These people do not often come to the public’s attention,” Jonathan said. “We know there are more than 60 Wairarapa families who should be on the list for support. Some folk think ‘we’re doing ok’.”

GRG members may be seeking guidance through the court system or are needing help navigating financial assistance.

“The GRG national office is the first bounce of the ball and then they are referred to us,” said Jonathan, who with Margaret, has officially run the Wairarapa branch for 12 months.

“We email members offering support, but get-togethers can be hard because carers may be working during the day and may not have babysitters in the evening. So, we make ourselves available with advice and support.

“Respite care is essential – a number of kids have difficulties, especially if they’ve been through a traumatic family time. We try to point them in the right direction, to kids’ camps at Riversdale for example.”

Although raising their grandsons is not something the Hookers foresaw for their current time of life, they have no regrets.

“We sometimes wonder what we’d do if we didn’t have them, but there’s no way we’d be without them now,” Jonathan said.

  • For grandparents or family/whānau caregivers, membership to GRG is free. Go to grg.org.nz Free specialist advocacy support is available for members on 0800 472 637. Contact Jonathan and Margaret Hooker at [email protected] or phone 06 377 1572.

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