A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Jeff Rubin: Happy Grandparents Day, as we recognize the importance of their role in our children’s lives

Today is Grandparents Day. Signed into law by presidential proclamation in 1978, the statue marking this day 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, and 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, been growing in significance over the years. Although, maybe not for the 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 some 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, it affects their social, emotional, physical, and financial well-being. Add to that the stress of gaining legal custody against the backdrop of outdated custody laws, and the change can be overwhelming.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 lacking a legal relationship with their grandchildren make them ineligible to access educational enrollment, school services; immunizations; or healthcare on their behalf. Others may have a legal relationship but taking on sudden caregiver responsibilities often means they do not have suitable housing. Many are in their prime savings years and rather than continuing to save, they find themselves providing for their grandchildren. For retired caregivers living on fixed income, they may not have the finances to take on the many extra expenses of raising children.

Yet despite the many hardships, the rewards of raising a grandchild may even be greater. Aside from the added stability, a Grandparent can bring to a grandchild’s life, many cite the “special moments” that grandchildren bring into their lives. What they say most often, however, 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 keep ties to families, experience less trauma at parental separation, have fewer educational disruptions, and experience 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 the estimated $6 billion dollars that grandparents and other relatives save taxpayers each year by raising and keeping children out of 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 had 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

“If you want a friend, you have to be one yourself.” Nina, Age 90

“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

Jeff Rubin is a nationally recognized speaker, author, and adviser on community and aging issues, having spent over 20 years as a director and facilitator of community service programs at the local, state and national levels. An advocate for “Age-friendly” and “Livable” communities, he is the author of the newly released Wisdom of Age: Perceptions and insights from one generation to another. He lives in Berea.
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