Honoring Grandparents Deserves More Than a Day by Jeff Rubin
This Sunday, September 9th is Grandparents Day. Signed into law by presidential proclamation in 1978, the statute marks this day and lists three purposes for the designation:
1) to commemorate and pay respect to grandparents; 2) to recognize the importance that older people can have on the lives of the young; 3) to give grandparents the opportunity to show love and support for their children’s children
Not nearly as established a celebration as Mother’s Day (1908), or Father’s Day (1910), Grandparent’s Day has nevertheless grown in significance over the years. Although maybe not for reasons you might expect.
The National Center on Grandfamilies, (grandparents and other relatives raising grandchildren), a program of Generations United, places the number of children living with “Grandfamilies” at 7.8 million, of whom 2.7 million are exclusively being raised by grandparents. Some sources place these figures even higher.
The reasons can be traced to a variety of issues: parental death; military deployment; job loss; or a parent’s physical or mental health just to name a few. Yet the overriding reasons for this upward trend can be traced to substance abuse (40%) and child abuse (28%), including abandonment and neglect, by at least one or both parents.
Often without warning, both grandparents and grandchildren are impacted in ways that present obstacles neither may have ever imagined. To one degree or another, this situation affects their social, emotional, physical, and financial well-being Add to this the stress of trying to gain legal custody against the backdrop of outdated custody laws, and the change can be overwhelming.
Those faced with becoming sole providers use words like guilt, anger, frustration, energy, exhaustion, and loss to describe their situation. They feel torn between love and anxiety, guardianship and responsibility, and concern over what will become of their own children and grandchildren should illness or death intervene.
Grandparents who lack a legal relationship to their grandchildren are ineligible to access educational enrollment, school services, immunizations, or healthcare on their behalf. Others who have a legal relationship but may take on sudden caregiver responsibilities often means they do not have suitable housing.
Many who are in their prime savings years, rather than continuing to save, find themselves providing for their grandchildren. Retired caregivers living on a fixed income may not have the finances to take on extra expenses of raising children.
Yet despite the many hardships, the rewards of raising a grandchild may even be greater. Aside from added stability that a Grandparent brings to a grandchild’s life, many acknowledge the value of the “special moments” that grandchildren bring into their lives. However, most often what they say is how the “smile of a child” makes it all worthwhile.
The desire to be needed and loved are universal traits, regardless of age or circumstance. Research shows that children raised in kinship care tend to maintain family ties, experience less trauma at parental separation, experience fewer educational disruptions, and endure fewer behavioral problems. Caregivers also report experiencing benefits derived from an ongoing connection with their grandchildren, including an increased “sense of purpose in life.”
An added value not often considered is an estimated $6 billion dollars that grandparents and other relatives save taxpayers each year by raising and keeping children from entering into foster care. Yet the type of assistance that many primary providers need is still geared towards foster care placement.
According to a report from Generations United, while all states have at least one supportive law or policy for grandparents and grandfamilies, “almost 65 percent of children in grandparent, or kinship care, live in states with only half or less of the key laws and policies designed to support them.” Our children and grandparents deserve better.
To all of you lucky enough to still have a grandparent or grandparents in your lives, give them a hug, tell them how much you love them, and wish them a Happy Grandparents Day!
A Few Words of Wisdom from Grandparents and Grandchildren
“Be thankful for what you have, laugh a lot, have a sense of humor. Respect and be kind to one another.” Elba, Age 100
“No matter how bad your life gets, do not push the people who love you away.” Destiny Age, 13
“Just because of your age doesn’t mean you can’t make a change in the world.” Sophia, Age 9