Making a second run at parenting was the last thing Janice Standen expected to be doing at the age of 64. But when the only other option was foster care for her three adored grandchildren, her choice was made.
Dreams of retirement were put on hold and Janice joined the unsung generation of people in Australia caring for their grandchildren – in her case, her daughter’s three kids.
“I had planned to do all these wonderful things like a house swap in Canada, going around the east coast, doing what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it,” she recalls.
“Unfortunately, I didn’t get to do it as probably the more than 70,000 other grandparents caring for their grandchildren didn’t get to do what they had planned either.
“But there’s no choice – unless you want your grandkids to go to foster care.”
There was trauma in losing my life – my dreams, my hopes – but my life has been made bigger by the experience."Janice Standen
Her journey to carer grandmother began with a daughter who struggled with three young children and a challenging home life. “It wasn’t that she didn’t love her children,” explains Janice. “We thought the family was going okay but everything was hidden. She was struggling with mental health issues.”
In the beginning, Janice looked after her grandchildren every second weekend. But a decade ago, when they were aged 16, 13, and 9, they moved in with her full-time.
The move was bittersweet. She loved them unconditionally but worried about how she could support them financially as well as emotionally. She was stuck.
On a whim she decided to go to a meeting of Grandparents Rearing Grandchildren in WA (GRGWA). “And I was thinking, ‘this is probably not for me’. I went in the door and everyone in that room had the same but different story to mine. It was a space to feel comfortable, to share common experiences.”
Many grandparent carers, says Janice, grapple with isolation, not enough information and government support, and the energy drain on ageing bodies. Reaching out showed her she wasn’t the only one. Now she encourages those who feel like lone battlers to remember there is support out there.
After finding her new tribe, Janice dedicated herself to making a difference in their lives. She drove the expansion of GRGWA, providing free support services, a food bank, donations centre and an op shop with free clothing and toys. Her gallant efforts were nationally acknowledged when she was named the 2022 WA Senior Australian of the Year.
I wanted to be ‘the stay’ in their lives."Janice Standen
She was making runs on the home front too. “My philosophy in raising children is to love, nurture and care for them,” she says. “I wanted to be ‘the stay’ in their lives.
“There were some challenging times. At school, some kids were cruel and asked why they were with an old lady, why did they live with their grandmother. This happens to a lot of kids, and they feel shame. That’s why we needed the support services.
“But for me, looking after the kids has been one of the best things in my life. There was trauma in losing my life – my dreams, my hopes – but my life has been made bigger by the experience.
“One door closed but another one opened.”
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