At 78, many women are enjoying their time as grandmas, getting to spend quality time with their grandbabies without shouldering the burden of the work.
Some grandparents are doing the noble and necessary work of raising their grandchildren because of extenuating family circumstances.
And a select few, including Linda Owens, are functioning as primary caregivers for babies that are not related to them — babies they might never see again.
Over the course of 34 years, Owens has cared for 81 babies. Single and retired from her job as a department manager at a grocery store, she has turned her attention to the littlest lives who desperately need her help, an act she sees as her divine calling.
“This is what God’s handed me a gift to do,” Owens said, according to KPIX-TV.
The oldest child Owens fostered is now 37, and some of them still keep in touch, emailing and visiting as they can — but Owens isn’t done yet. She recently took in her 81st foster baby, and hasn’t indicated that she’s planning on retiring any time soon from this all-important job.
Alameda County in California has 500 resource parents, but Owens is unsurprisingly one of the longest-serving of them all. It’s clear from those she interacts with that she has done a great job.
“She’s always been very optimistic, always determined to give these babies the best possible start in their lives,” Dr. Mika Hiramatsu, the pediatrician Owens frequents, said.
“Her experience, her love, the care that she provides to the babies, it’s immeasurable,” Mia Buckner-Preston, the Placement Division Director of the Alameda County Department of Children & Family Services, said.
“She is in a category almost by herself.”
With all that experience under her belt, not only is Owens well-equipped to care for the babies that come her way, but she’s a great resource for adoptive parents who adopt one of those kids.
Erica, who adopted a baby from Owens’ care 12 years ago, recalled the gentle instructions she received from Owens.
“She’s in her crib, she’s like, ‘Leave her alone. I know you want to play with her but if you wake her up,’ she goes, ‘you’re going to start interrupting her sleep time,” Erica recalled, laughing.
Erica’s daughter still gets to see Owens, who appreciates being able to have that kind of continued involvement with her foster kids.
“She’s turned out beautiful,” Owens said. “It makes you feel good. It makes you feel that you fulfilled your job.”
Though she’s been through the process many times before, parting with the children is always difficult — even when it’s a good situation. Owens does her best to love them while she can.
“I can give her a kiss on the forehead and wish her the best, and say, you know, ‘I love you,’” she said of the baby currently in her care.
“It’s a challenging job, but it’s very rewarding.”