Like many, my husband and I enjoyed time with our grandchildren over the Labor Day weekend.
They climbed a tree I’d never thought of climbing, timed themselves in self-made obstacle courses, swam multiple times in Lake Huron at temperatures no else thought about swimming in, and generally displayed energy I could only dream of nowadays. They were a joy.
Happy Grandparents Day! Today is National Grandparents Day, the official marker of the importance of intergenerational relationships.
This is not a holiday invented to sell cards and flowers. It was initiated by a longtime national leader in the field of aging, a West Virginian named Marian McQuade, who passed away in 2008. She had 15 children, 43 grandchildren, 10 great-grandchildren, and one great-great-grandchild.
She spent much of her later years working to create a day to celebrate the richness of intergenerational relationships and the strength they bring to young and old.
There are three purposes for National Grandparents Day: 1) to honor grandparents, 2) to give grandparents an opportunity to show love for their children’s children, and 3) to help children become aware of the strength, information and guidance older people can offer.
In 1979, President Jimmy Carter proclaimed the first Sunday after Labor Day to be National Grandparents Day.
His proclamation states in part, “Grandparents are our continuing tie to the near-past, to the events and beliefs and experiences that so strongly affect our lives and the world around us. Whether they are our own or surrogate grandparents who fill some of the gaps in our mobile society, our senior generation also provides our society a link to our national heritage and traditions.”
September was chosen as a nod to the “autumn” years of life.
In 1995, Canada followed suit, naming the second Sunday in September as Grandparents Day. Emphasis acknowledged intergenerational connections and recognized that grandparents play “... a critical role in strengthening of families.”
With an increasingly mobile and online society, uniting the generations deserves special recognition and effort. Previous references in this column on what makes a community livable and thriving underscored that assuring intergenerational contact and interdependence in general among community members creates healthy communities. Statistics bear this out.
Wide-ranging research suggests that strong social ties are linked to longer life. In contrast, loneliness and social isolation are linked to poorer health and depression.
Dr. Sheldon Cohen, a psychologist at Carnegie Melton University points out “... simply believing you have strong social support may help protect against the harms of stress and vulnerability to illness.”
While “social support” is a broad statement, the role of family and grandparents remains a key ingredient.
In 2014, the Census Bureau reported 6 percent of American households had children and grandparents living in them, doubling the numbers from 1970. Sixty percent of those households were headed by grandparents.
This doesn’t necessarily mean the parents aren’t involved, they may be. Even in those cases however, grandparents tend to assume a significant caregiving role.
Grandparents often step up to help after something bad has happened. This could be death, incarceration, disability, addiction, and financial or work instability.
There’s been a steady uptick of grandparents raising their grandchildren. A website, www.raisingyourgrandchildren.com won awards in 2016 for assisting grandparents with practical advice on simple to complex issues. Check it out.
Locally, the Area Agency on Aging maintains a quarterly newsletter that can be sent to any grandparent raising grandchildren in Berrien, Cass and Van Buren counties. Know someone who might be interested? Just call 983-7058 and ask to be put on the newsletter mailing list. It’s no cost, no obligation; just ideas and information.
Meanwhile, give your grandparent or grandchild a hug today – they’re important.
Lynn Kellogg is CEO of Region IV Area Agency on Aging in Southwest Michigan. Questions on age or independence services? Call the Info-Line for Aging & Disability at 800-654-2810 or visit www.areaagencyonaging.org. The Generations column appears each Sunday in The Herald-Palladium.