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OPINION | DANA KELLEY: Move the date

by Dana Kelley | September 10, 2021 at 3:17 a.m.

Congress could hardly have done more to make Grandparents Day forgettable back in 1978 than by consigning its observance to obscurity on the first Sunday in September after Labor Day (Sept. 12 this year).

No one knew then, of course, of the events 23 years later that would memorialize Sept. 11--that's the date Grandparents Day will fall on next year, when it will be absolutely overshadowed. Even this year, after the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attack tomorrow, who will remember (or feel like celebrating) Grandparents Day on Sunday?

Timing alone is reason enough to rethink moving its date. No holiday should have to share time with a national day of infamy.

Almost nobody knows when Grandparents Day is anyway. I've enthusiastically embraced all things "grand" since the birth of my daughter's son, and I still had to look it up.

The scarce history of the minor-but-grand holiday suggests a seemingly arbitrary selection, though September was evidently chosen for its symbolism as the "autumn" of life.

Its founder, or at least its most energetic proponent, Marian Lucille Herndon McQuade, knew a thing or two about grandparenting. She and her husband, Joseph, grew a formidable family tree over a 60-year marriage with 15 children, producing 43 grandchildren, 15 great-grandchildren and three great-great-grandchildren.

Mrs. McQuade began her campaign for a day to honor grandparents in 1970, but it took nine years for her dream to be realized. After Congress passed legislation authorizing the holiday, President Carter signed a proclamation in 1979 establishing Grandparents Day, which read, in part:

"We all know grandparents whose values transcend passing fads and pressures, and who possess the wisdom of distilled pain and joy. Because they are usually free to love and guide and befriend the young without having to take daily responsibility for them, they can often reach out past pride and fear of failure and close the space between generations."

A fruitful legacy of grand-offspring notwithstanding, Mrs. McQuade credited her own grandmother as the inspiration for her concern for promoting and preserving senior relationships.

"After working all day on the farm, Grandma would walk off to visit elderly people in the community," she said. "Often I would tag along. I never forgot talking with those delightful people. That's where my love and respect for oldsters started."

Research indicates that strong grandparent relationships benefit all parties. Youngsters learn more, gain more perspective and develop a deeper sense of heritage when they spend time with grandparents. And being around kids keeps seniors feeling more connected, more purposeful and also tends to help promote better mental and physical health.

I was fortunate to have good relationships with three of my four grandparents (my maternal grandfather died when I was little), and I wish my experience was universal. Indeed, I am frequently saddened to see so many families in which grandparent-grandchild bonds never materialized.

You can't miss what you don't know, and generations of kids not knowing how gratifying a close grandparent relationship can be is a monumental social tragedy. They don't realize their deprivation, but we as a society should.

We collectively recall when households routinely included extended family, as captured and related in some of the most popular books, movies and TV series. That way of life, and of living, was instrumental in shaping the nation's children from colonial times. Its deconstruction coincides with other social declines, and yet there's been basically no policymaking geared toward restoring it.

Why aren't there enhanced tax incentives, for example, for families moving a retired grandparent in? With high-speed Internet to enable telemedicine becoming widespread, even in rural areas, and home health clinics popping up in smaller-than-ever towns, families have more resources available than ever to aid in caring for a grandparent staying in their residence.

There's also more room than ever for Grandma or Grandpa in the typical household. Average square footage is up on houses, even as household size has shrunk. Homes today are about 1,000 square feet larger than in 1970, and square footage per person has doubled.

Plus, the percentage of households with only one person is twice what it was in 1960, and today there are more than 33 million single-person households. In 1900, only 6 percent of people age 65 and older lived alone. Nearly 30 percent of over-65 Americans do so now.

Old age and solitary living isn't a healthy combination. Seniors who live alone are less healthy and suffer depression at a higher rate than their counterparts who live with someone else (spouse, extended family or others).

A first step to promoting better multigenerational engagement and living is to get some real momentum behind changing the date of Grandparents Day.

My suggestion would be sometime in the week after Christmas, possibly even Dec. 26 (a twist on the old British Boxing Day might be grandchildren getting to open another batch of gifts). That's a time already rich with family tradition and ripe with New Year enthusiasm, both of which would benefit from a visit to grandparents.

Let's start a move-the-date petition. Grandparents need more recognition, and so does their holiday.

Dana D. Kelley is a freelance writer from Jonesboro.

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