Policy Resource

Wisdom, Action, and Presidential Recognition

Sep 18, 2012

Intergenerational unity has an important place in the lives of infants and toddlers. While many grandparents provide occasional care for their little ones, more and more grandparents are serving as the primary caregiver for their young grandchildren.

The soft pitter patter of little feet are heard in the room. A teenager is seen tucking his hoodie more tightly around his neck. Tears fall as a 55-year-old grandmother claims with pride that her grandson is now entering his sophomore year of college. She continues, voice breaking, to say that she has been the sole provider for her grandson for 14 years and that she is now co-caregiver for his younger dyslexic sister who just tested 2 grades above her expected schooling level. What do small feet, hoodies, and tears have in common? They were all present this past Thursday, September 13th, as Generations United and its partners, including ZERO TO THREE, joined the White House to honor grandparents’ many contributions to society and children with an overarching theme of intergenerational unity.

Intergenerational unity has an important place in the lives of infants and toddlers. While many grandparents provide occasional care for their little ones, more and more grandparents are serving as the primary caregiver for their young grandchildren. More than 2.5 million grandparents have taken on the responsibility for raising their grandchildren. Among children who are living with a grandparent who is primarily responsible for their care, 44% are under the age of 6.

The room for the White House event celebrating and honoring this important population was filled to the brim with all forms, shapes, sizes, and ages of individuals dedicated to supporting unity between grandparents and children. The gathering was a highlight of what has been a full week of Grandparents Day activities, led by Generations United, encouraging us all to “Do Something Grand.” The White House event kicked off with a written proclamation by President Obama officialy declaring September 9, 2012 as National Grandparents Day. Following were a slew of speakers from all walks of life.

Some of the speakers included:

  • Cecilia Munoz, Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, who talked about how grandparents working with children is a win-win situation. One way grandparents can become mentors is through programs that send older adults into schools to work with young children.
  • Dr. Erwin Tan, Director of Senior Corps, who cited a medical study at Johns Hopkins stating that there has been evidence that older adults who volunteer have longer lives. Dr. Tan claims that volunteering with children is “better than a gym membership.”
  • Pam Smith, Director of Aging and Independence Services in San Diego County, who spoke of how she has helped to devise co-beneficial volunteer programs between foster care teenagers and local seniors, simply directing the seniors that all they have to do is care.
  • Janet Flemings, a grandparent responsible for two, who talked about how children should never have to wonder if they are loved, and emphasized that the struggle to raise multiple generations is not easy, but it is rewarding.
  • Dr. Mary Catherine Bateson, the National Co-chair for Seniors4Kids and the final speaker for the afternoon, who discussed how the average age of grandparents is early 50s, exclaiming, “That isn’t old!” She further urged us of a lesson to be learned, that “we have to think long term” by inviting the world to look at children. With this extra time, why don’t we work towards building a world for our grandchildren’s grandchildren?

Even if you missed this wonderful event, there are many ways to get involved. As the week of celebration comes to a close, action continues all around us. Intergenerational relationships and activities are beneficial for all involved, and need to happen all year long. Some older adults at the event are running school supply drives, and others gave back by holding a baby shower for an older grandmother raising her twin grandchildren. Action is all around us. Read about how you can take action every day.

Join in and do something grand, long after Grandparents Day has ended! Organize an intergenerational dialogue in your neighborhood to discuss how, together, you may be able to add value to your community. Volunteer in community facilities that serve children and adults, such as child care centers, afterschool programs, schools, senior centers, nursing homes, assisted living communities, or adult day care center. Become a Foster Grandparent and touch the lives of young children each day. You don’t need to have had kids to be a grandparent. In the words of Dr. Bateson, “if you don’t have a grandchild, borrow one.”

The people who attended this event care about children with love and devotion. They can laugh with full smiles when someone interjects a baby story into their speech or cry with pride after a difficult storm. The shiver could be felt in the room as Dr. Bateson stood up to speak. So here, we leave you with a few final words as quoted from her mother, Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.”

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