The Changing Roles of Grandparents

Vicky Pitner   -  

This past Sunday, the National Day of Service and Remembrance was observed to honor the nearly 3,000 deaths and thousands of innocent people injured as a result of the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001.

There was also attention given to a global icon, Queen Elizabeth II of Britain, as millions gathered to mourn her death and pay tribute to her 70-year reign of service. But another important day of recognition was also this past Sunday. National Grandparents Day is a secular holiday celebrated in various countries to show the bond between grandparents and grandchildren and to recognize their contribution to families and to society. Grandparents Day occurs on various days of the year, across the globe, including in Australia, Canada, Italy, Singapore, and the United Kingdom.

The United States has been celebrating National Grandparents Day on the first Sunday after Labor Day since 1978 when President Carter signed the proclamation. But interestedly, a nine-year-old Russell Capper sent a letter to President Nixon in 1969 suggesting that a special day should be just for grandparents. The reply he received from the personal secretary to the president, thanked him for his idea but explained the President ordinarily issues proclamations only when a Congressional resolution authorizes him to do so. Then, in 1977, Marian McQuade, wanted to help youths understand and appreciate the importance of seniors and with the help of two senators, the resolution was sent to President Clinton, and in 1978 Congress passed the legislation.

Grandparents have always played an important role in families, but due to changes in the past forty-five years, the responsibilities of grandparents are increasing. Grandparents and older adults are invaluable assets. Grandparents (and older adults) provide more health care, financial aid, and support for the family than ever before. Below are a few of the changes in the role that grandparents play today:

  • Million of older Americans have returned to the workforce due to fixed incomes and rising costs.
  • Grandparents provide 18% of child care for a son or daughter between four to six times a week.
  • 23% of parents have an adult child, who is struggling financially or with mental health issues and are living in their parent’s home and often with the grandchildren.
  • More than 13 million grandchildren are being raised by a grandparent because the adult child may be in prison, living with addiction or mental illness, and do not have the skills to parent. Often the arrangement is a verbal agreement and the grandparents do not have guardianship which complicates the living situation.
  • With the rise of neuro-cognitive disorders, one of the biggest challenges is providing constant care for a spouse living with dementia. Often adult children do not live near and the responsibility falls to the other parent. Adult children often struggle to accept the cognitive changes in a parent and are in denial of what the responsibility is for the parent providing care.

Older adults have always been mentors and shared their love and wisdom by creating an intergenerational bond with youth. Reaching out to an older neighbor or friend, providing more support to a parent, or just showing appreciation to our elders, can go a long way.

If you would like more information on our Memory Ministry, our Virtual Family and Friends Support Group or need tips on caregiving, please contact Vicky Pitner at