Sunday marks the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11th terrorists attacks. Many columnists will be writing about that sad milestone, so I wanted to comment on a happier one: Sunday also is the 38th anniversary of National Grandparents Day.
President Jimmy Carter signed the first proclamation in 1978 declaring this annual holiday on the Sunday after Labor Day. He was inspired by an eight-year campaign led by West Virginia grandmother Marian McQuade.
I learned about National Grandparents Day from a press release the U.S. Census Bureau sent with interesting statistics about America’s 70 million grandparents.
Some of those statistics are sobering: 1.6 million grandmothers and 1 million grandfathers in 2014 were the primary caregivers for grandchildren living with them. Nearly half of those grandchildren were age 6 and younger, and nearly 548,000 of those grandparents lived below the poverty line.
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I know a couple of grandparents who have stepped up to raise their grandchildren because of parents’ substance abuse. More grandparents I know have the opposite problem: their grandchildren live so far away they rarely get to see them.
Regardless of their situations, most grandparents I know consider this cross-generational relationship to be the most fun and magical of their lives.
My wife and I became grandparents in 2012, when grandson Sam was born to our older daughter and her husband. And our joy is about to be doubled: Sam’s little sister is due in January.
I knew something about what to expect: I had good relationships with my grandparents, although I rarely got to spend time with them because they lived so far away. The same was true for our daughters when they were little.
Becky and I are the luckiest of grandparents: Sam and his parents live three blocks from us. We keep Sam one day a week while his mother works, and she often brings him over for late-afternoon visits.
I have always enjoyed being the father of two girls who grew up to be accomplished young women. They are my pride and joy. But in many ways, being a grandparent is more fun. It certainly is easier. Parents do the heavy lifting when it comes to raising children, and they are always on duty.
Grandparents have less responsibility — and less authority. As a grandparent, you aren’t the boss anymore. If you raised children right, you shouldn’t feel the need to be. Grandparenting is all about expressing subtle influence.
Thanks to age and experience, grandparents bring a degree of wisdom and calm to a relationship with a child that parents often can’t match. Grandparents are usually less worried about money and career than parents are. They are at a different stage of life. They know who they are as people, because they have finally grown up — at least as much as they ever will.
I’ve never liked spoiled children. I read John Rosemond’s parenting column in the Herald-Leader each week and almost always mutter, “Yes!” Discipline is an expression of love, and, if you are a lucky grandparent, you are simply reinforcing parental rules against rude and selfish behavior.
But a little indulgence never hurt a child. That’s what grandparents are for.
One thing I have noticed in four years of grandparenting: It gets more fun as Sam acquires more maturity, knowledge, vocabulary, skills and interests.
I love reading him books, and I have started sharing stories about my childhood and life experience. I remember being captivated by my grandfathers’ stories of working on railroads, from the battlefields of France during World War I to the coalfields of Eastern Kentucky.
I am looking forward to future bike rides, hikes, camping trips and fishing excursions with Sam and his little sister, as I did with their mother and aunt. I am building a backyard workshop in no small part to have the joy of making things with them when they are old enough.
Sam has taught me a lot in the past four years, too, and not just about monster trucks and Thomas the Tank Engine. He is a constant reminder to take joy in exuberance, to live in the moment and to never underestimate the power of unconditional love.