The Importance of Grandparents

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The importance of grandparents in the lives of children cannot be denied. Before our culture became so mobile, it was common for children to grow up surrounded by extended family, including one or both sets of grandparents. Seniors often moved in with their adult children and young grandkids when they became frail.

My own childhood mirrored this now quaint picture of the past, and I've always felt happy about the fact that my children were involved with both sets of their grandparents as they grew up. Yet, even though my kids enjoyed weekly grandparent visits, they were already in the minority. Many of their friends rarely saw their own grandparents, who often lived hundreds (if not thousands) of miles away. But, even with the obstacle of distance, I heard many of these young children talk excitedly about seeing Grandma and Grandpa over holidays and whenever they could.

The Revival of In-Law Suites

In recent years—often because of economic issues—a reversal of this trend has caused a significant number of families to return to the idea of sharing responsibilities and, in some cases, living spaces.

According to a Pew Research Center Report, a record 60.6 million Americans, or 19 percent of the population of the United States, lived in multi-generational family households in 2014. That's more than double the number of such households in 1980.

Another type of grandparenting has quietly maintained a strong presence in our society: grandparents who have become surrogate parents to their grandchildren because, for one reason or another, the parents cannot fulfill such a role. In 2015, more than 2.6 million grandparents were responsible for the care of their grandchildren. The influence of these “grandfamilies” is significant. Without them, thousands of children would have no familial anchor and, in some cases, no home.

Grandchildren Who Assume the Caregiver Role

When I was growing up, few grandparents lived to the ages of 85, 90 and beyond. But as modern medical care helps people live longer, more grandchildren are stepping up to provide care for their elders. These young caregivers are in what should be their formative adult years, yet they are torn between bettering their lives through education and job advancement, and the loyalty they feel toward their aging family members.

We see questions on AgingCare’s Caregiver Forum from this generation much more frequently than we did in the past. Many of these grandchildren adore their grandparent(s), but they are left to navigate complex medical and long-term care decisions while trying to make lives of their own.

Celebrate National Grandparents Day

The bond between a grandparent and grandchild is precious and unique. During the 1970s, a grassroots effort spearheaded by Marian McQuade of West Virginia led to the creation of a day set aside to celebrate this relationship.

Grandparents Day was deemed a national holiday in 1978 and is celebrated each year on the first Sunday after Labor Day. The purpose of this special day is to “honor grandparents, give them the opportunity to show love for their children’s children, and to help younger generations become aware of the strength, information and guidance that older people can offer.”

Take this opportunity to appreciate your own grandparents, your children’s grandparents, and all elders who have had an impact on your life. If you know a younger caregiver who is providing assistance to their grandparent, offer some recognition or a helping hand. Grandparents Day is a reminder that we owe a lot to older generations who have passed down their love and hard-won wisdom.

Carol Bradley Bursack

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Over the span of two decades, author, columnist, consultant and speaker Carol Bradley Bursack cared for a neighbor and six elderly family members. Her experiences inspired her to pen, "Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories," a portable support group book for caregivers.

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5 Comments

Many grandparents today are unable to participate in their grandchildren's lives because they are caregiving for great grandparents. So many things I wanted to do with my grandkids I can't. Things like take them to Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks, going camping, hiking in the mountains, going to their school programs etc. These are lost years with my grandkids. Soon they'll be off and involved with their own friends and interests.
Some may say the kids are gaining, they have both their great grandma and grandma alive and can learn so much from them. I say hogwash to that. Their great grandma doesn't know their names or who they are and all they see of their grandma is someone who can't have any fun or go anywhere because she's taking care of great grandma.
Another reason I will not have my son taking me into his home when I am old. I want him to be able to enjoy his grandchildren. To form meaningful relationships with them. Time goes by too fast with kids and when it's gone it's gone forever!
I never had the luxury of knowing either set of grandparents that well because we lived too far away. I always envied those who had relatives who lived in the same city..... those weekly family dinners, and the fun they had on holidays.

My significant other has two grade-school aged grandchildren who live out of State, he only gets to visit maybe twice a year, and the visits aren't always that good because his daughter has her own agenda. I haven't seen the children in over 5 years because of dealing with my own aging parents.

Now a days, some grandparents are starting to feel the younger generation think they are their own personal ATM machines :(