WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER
Sandy Prather tells a story about grandparenting to a group of grandmothers May 12.
ST. ALBERT — For Pam Melnyk, grandchildren are a treasure.
"My grandchildren enrich my life every day," says Melnyk. "They make me more selfless, and they make me think twice about values that I hold because I want to pass those values onto them."
Every grandmother faces her own distinct quandary, and Melnyk is no exception. Two of her children and four grandchildren live in Sweden. Seeing them regularly is impossible.
"My challenge is to stay connected to them," she said. Her solution is to communicate with her grandchildren via Skype, a software application that allows the family to chat face-to-face over the Internet.
Melnyk co-facilitated a May 12 retreat day with Sandy Prather for about 20 grandmothers at Star of the North Retreat Centre in St. Albert.
Grandmothers, she said, can play many roles from nurse to teacher to spiritual advisor. Many grandparents help their grandchildren emotionally, financially and spiritually. Others help families deal with health crises.
When discussing their grandchildren, the grandmothers at the retreat day were enthusiastic about storytelling, personal reflection and sharing.
Prather asked the grandmothers "to reflect on the things we know we're doing right and what brings us joy."
The grandmothers also examined the frustrations they have faced, the sorrows they have felt and how they have dealt with those feelings.
"There is some heartbreak in grandmothering because there are the broken relationships, or the distance is sometimes an issue," said Prather.
Melnyk had a clear message she wanted the grandmothers to leave the retreat with.
"All of them understand how their lives are enriched by their grandchildren," she said. "But I want them to leave with the understanding how much they have enriched the lives of their grandchildren."
Alice Sears has three grandchildren, one of whom she raises herself. Eric, 11, has Down's syndrome, which has proven challenging for the family.
"It is like mothering all over again," said Sears. "But having special needs, he requires a lot of care, a lot of patience."
She recalls that she didn't have a lot of patience with her own children. "But now that I'm a grandmother I have the patience."
Sears focuses on what she is doing right in her grandmother role and what brings delight in her grandchildren.
"One of the joys of being a grandmother is the playfulness," she said. She takes her younger grandchildren to the park and her oldest grandson, 16, to plays at the Citadel or the Fringe.
Their common interest in theatre and drama enhances their relationship. Soon she is going to watch his school play in Calgary.
And then there is the faith. A member of Rio Terrace Moravian Church in west Edmonton, Sears wants to make the faith relevant for her grandchildren.
"I also want to help lead them in their faith journey." Her parents did not talk about faith and she learned her own faith from her grandparents. "I feel that's my role, to pass that onto my grandchildren."
Audrey Erickson has six grandchildren, ranging in age from three to 13. She attended the retreat to learn about grandmothering from a faith-based perspective and to learn how to grow closer to her grandchildren.
"They are a very special part of my life," said Erickson, a parishioner at Holy Trinity Parish in Spruce Grove-Stony Plain.
She wants to pass on important values to her grandchildren, "something that will stay with them for life, something solid to hold onto."
Her daughter enjoys being a mother, something Erickson didn't anticipate. "It was such a surprise for me to see the joy of my daughter mothering."