Families find solace and help with seniors

The Local Germany
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Families find solace and help with seniors
Photo: DPA

When Verena Herz found out she was pregnant with twins, she had no idea what she was in for. Luckily, she was able to borrow a grandmother. The Local learns the advantages of welcoming a new grandparent into the family and why Omas and Opas say: "I tell everybody about it!"


When Herz's midwife warned her that little extra help was offered to parents of multiples, she suggested Herz adopt a grandparent through Wellcome, an organization that provides social services to struggling families. Wellcome set up a meeting with a potential "Leihoma" and Herz said they "clicked from the beginning".

Throughout the first year of her chidren's life, Oma Elda helped the family: going on walks with the children and other times just sitting with them in the garden, drinking a cup of tea, and everything in between. Herz felt totally comfortable with Oma Elda looking after the children and was happy for a little extra sleep here and there.

"It kept me sane," Herz said.

Helga Krull, project manager of Grosselterndienst, which has been running for 25 years, told The Local that their Berlin programme is set up primarily to support single mothers, but it also helps pensioners stay active and "feel needed". This is not a job Krull stresses, although parents pay a suggested €4 per hour. It is more about the emotional connections and both sides must want that, Krull explains. If either party confuses this for daycare, they are recommended to switch to a nanny or childcare agency.

"Grandparents" meet their "grandchildren" in their own time, but Grosselterndienst also organises group events, like day trips, theatre óutings or simply meeting for a picnic with other participants.

Children and grandparents form "long lasting bonds" Krull told The Local. One former grandchild is now 28 and still calls his adopted grandparents Oma and Opa.

Most of the volunteers are retired and between 60 and 70 years of age who either don't have grandchildren of their own or they live far away from their families. Margrit Schrot, a divorced pensioner, started with the programme in 2007 when it was recommended to her by a social worker in the hospital.

Today she still says: "It's my life and its fun". She currently has two adopted grandchildren, Conrad (2) and Eliza (8), from separate families and still keeps in touch with her previous adopted grandchildren.

She points out that a child doesn't care about the biological relations. "They value that someone has time just for them."

Schrot meets up with each child separately twice a week and enjoys picking them up from kita or school, taking them for walks or simply going to the playground together. Margrit feels appreciated, especially since some families she has been involved with have been in tight situations. One single mother she helped was working full time while studying and, without the support of Margrit, she would not have been able to juggle both.

Now the Grosselterndienst has 500 grandparents, which is still not covering the demand in Berlin, Krull said.

The idea began more than 30 years ago as a way to bridge generations and give families the opportunity to bond with an age group they may be missing due to distance, death or simply family circumstance. Initially this service was offered only through seniors groups, organisations that provide nannies, church groups and private groups, but now it has grown and extended through Germany.

The idea has caught on abroad too, and some have even called Grosselterndienst for advice on how to start the project, Helga Krull said.

Herz admits "it was hard to let Elda go" and said she has since recommended it to many friends.

Schrot plans to keep on being an adopted grandmother and told The Local that if it weren't for Grosselterndienst, there would be a lot less joy in her life.  

Louisa Lopez is interning at The Local for the month of August. 



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