Real Life

Real life: We adopted 16 surrogate grannies

When I was all alone, I found a saviour where I least expected it!

By As told to Take 5

Jo Hayes, 46, Auckland, NZ shares her heartwarming story:

I watched as two children cried with delight, bolting towards an older woman with their arms flailing.
"Nanna!" they shrieked, as she embraced them with a big hug and a smile.
My heart broke realising these little strangers in the street were getting to spend time with their grandmother, while my parents were on the other side of the world in the UK.
I'd moved from Warwickshire to Auckland in my 30s with the intention of staying for just six months.
I hadn't planned on falling in love, marrying and having two children, Sophie, nine, and Hunter, five.
When my marriage ended four years ago, the reality of being so far away from Mum and Dad really hit me.
I was lucky that Sophie and Hunter's father and his parents still remained in their lives and were really supportive, but I had no-one to turn to the way that many women with kids looked to their mother for help and guidance.
After joining a local mums' group, I met many ladies who'd moved here from overseas and felt the same as me.
"Wouldn't it be great if we could adopt a surrogate grandmother?" I said, half-jokingly.
My friends nodded in agreement.
My kids got a bonus grandparent! (Image: Supplied)
"Gosh, that'd be incredible!" one sighed.
"I'd love someone to tell me whether I'm doing the right thing with my kids!" another said. "I have no idea!"
"Or just to lend a hand occasionally," someone else chimed in.
The next day I went to pick up Sophie from daycare.
While I waited for her, I spotted Susan, a lovely older lady who I saw most days collecting her grandson.
She always greeted me with a warm smile and never failed to ask how I was doing.
"I've had this idea," I told her, explaining the concept of a surrogate grandparent.
Susan looked at me in surprise.
"Well, you'd better not choose anyone but me!" she grinned, pointing her finger at me.
I was gobsmacked.
I'd known Susan for a year and felt flattered that she thought highly enough of me to want to be a 'grandmother' to Sophie and Hunter.
We got talking and I confessed to her how alone I'd felt for the past few years.
"I think you're a brilliant mother," Susan said.
Turned out she lived within walking distance from my house, so from then on she started popping over regularly for a cuppa and a chat.
"I'll pick up Sophie from daycare," she promised.
By then I trusted Susan wholeheartedly.
It was such a relief to have some help, giving me an hour or two to recharge after my long days at work.
Soon, Susan was spending even more time with us.
"Call me Granny Susan," she told the kids.
It was a name many people knew her by – she had five grandchildren and volunteered at the local primary school, helping kids with their reading.
Sophie, me, Susan and Hunter. (Picture Credit: Robert Trathen / Australian Women's Weekly NZ)
In the meantime, I decided to leave my job in accounting and launched Surrogate Grandparents, a charity to find nannas and pops for families all over New Zealand.
All it required was for both parties to get a police check and provide references.
Once the charity launched, I received enquiries from all across the country.
My own parents were chuffed when I told them what I'd done.
"We'd love to meet Susan," Mum said.
They'd planned to visit us for the festive season.
"Will you join us for Christmas dinner?" I asked Susan and she happily agreed.
My parents weren't jealous of Susan at all – they really appreciated all she was doing for the kids and me.
My ex was also happy to have Susan involved with the children.
The kids with their biological Nanna. (Image: Supplied)
Sophie and Hunter refer to my parents as Nanna and Granddad, and call their dad's parents Gran and Granddad.
We all had a great summer together and since then have had plenty of family outings with Susan.
At Easter, we planned an egg hunt and got completely drenched when the sky opened, but we still had a great laugh afterwards.
So far, Surrogate Grandparents has been responsible for finding 16 grandparents for those who need them.
My life has changed completely since I adopted Granny Susan.
I no longer feel so alone, and the kids love having her around.
I'm not saying she's replaced Sophie and Hunter's biological grandparents – far from it.
But her presence has brightened all our lives and I don't know what I'd do without her.
Me and Susan promoting the charity. (Image: Supplied)

Susan tells take 5:

When Jo said she wished she had someone like me for her children, I was only too happy to volunteer! Over time, Jo and I have become very good friends – in fact, her kids and my grandchildren act like they're all part of one big family.
You might think that my hands would already be full with my five grandchildren, but it's been great to have my family expand. My heart has wrapped around each one of them.
I think Sophie is a very talented young girl, and Hunter has personality in spades.
Nothing makes me happier than being a grandparent: the kids light up my life and, if you listen, they'll teach you a lot, too.
People are constantly asking what they need to do to be a surrogate grandparent and my advice is always the same: hugs! Just hold them tight and give them lots of love.

Sophie, 9, tells take 5:

It's great having Granny Susan around, we get loads of hugs, and she always comes along to our school assemblies – even when Mum can't make it.

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