If you are missing the experience of being a grandparent, whether it's because your grandchildren are far away or you just don't have any, there is another option available to you: Surrogate grandparenting.
Surrogate grandparents take on the social role of grandparents for nearby children (and sometimes, for adults), to the benefit of both parties. For example, as reported earlier this week by HuffPost Canada, 57-year-old Margaret Nipshagen reached out about two weeks ago to offer herself as a surrogate. She did that by publishing a post in Bunz Helping Zone, a private Facebook group that, as the name suggests, specializes in helping people.
"I know it sounds strange, but I don't have any relatives in Canada & nothing would make me more happy than a Bunz to 'adopt' me! I'm close to 60, relatively healthy (I have Asthma but it's not a big issue), positive, jovial, good around pets & have a 'love and be loved' attitude. Anyone? Lots of love, wisdom to give in my 'older' years! Tia!" the post stated.
Nipshagen has no relatives in Canada other than her 17-year-old son, and she said she felt her life was falling too much into a routine — something she hoped the post would change.
To say it did would be an understatement. Nipshagen received dozens of responses and hundreds of Facebook 'likes,' according to HuffPost Canada. The Canadian Broadcasting Corp. profiled her, and suddenly, she was a potential surrogate grandmother to dozens of people.
"I was on a never-ending treadmill of going to work, coming home, watching Netflix, and not doing much else. I felt disconnected from the world, isolated and quite frankly, a bit lonely," she told the CBC. "I had a sense of not being useful or purposeful in this life and so I decided to do something about it and reach out to others to see if I could offer them company, or advice, or a tiny bit of wisdom, laughter, or insight over a cup of tea or coffee, or dinner."
She is far from alone in seeking this connection. The Facebook group "Surrogate Grandparents USA" has more than 2,500 members despite being just two years old. It describes itself as "a place where grandparents who are missing having grandchildren in their lives, and families whose children are missing having grandparents in their lives, can find and connect with each other for a lifetime of love." And in Australia, a website matches potential surrogate grandparents and grandchildren to each other at no charge.
There are all sorts of people who might look for a surrogate grandparent: adult children of divorced couples, people who have been rejected by their birth families because of their sexual or gender identities, or just people who live a long distance from the nearest relative. Sometimes, it's even simpler: Neighbor children have been known to "adopt" older couples.
Betty Woodward had such an experience. Woodward and her husband live in New York, but their grandchildren live in the Midwest and South. But they've built a bond with two neighbor children.
"They’re not our grandkids. And we don’t take the place of their grandparents. But we share a very special bond that only these two generations can really understand. It allows us to pour out some grandparenting love and savvy on two adorable kids who really appreciate it," Woodward writes on grandparents.com.
"It was the idea of undivided attention from an older person that they really enjoyed," she wrote.