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10 things to think about as we celebrate National Grandparents’ Day

We love and adore our grandchildren. We share photos, stories and tout their accomplishments – from first steps and diplomas to jobs and marriage and more.

In 1978, President Jimmy Carter made sure that grandparents were honored and remembered by declaring the first Sunday after Labor Day as National Grandparents’ Day.

The purpose of this day is “to honor grandparents, to give grandparents an opportunity to show love for their children and to help children become aware of the strength, information and guidance older people can offer.”

The holiday emanates from the work of two committed and passionate pioneers: Jacob Reingold and Marian McQuade.

Reingold, from the Hebrew Home at Riverdale, attended the 1961 White House Conference on Aging and was inspired by a speech about the new images of the aged. He recognized the role of millions of grandparents and in 1961 the Home held a special day to honor them. In 1963, it became a special holiday in the Bronx.

West Virginia followed. In 1970, Marian McQuade originally set out to increase awareness of older adults in nursing homes, fearing that they were being forgotten. She was on a mission to remember these older adults and to honor all grandparents. McQuade became an activist and is considered responsible for West Virginia becoming the first state to declare National Grandparents Day in 1971. Five years later, it became a national holiday.

If you wonder why we care so deeply for our grandchildren, it all began a million years ago in the plains of Africa, writes noted geriatrician Dr. William Thomas, author of “What Are Old People For? How Elders Will Save the World.” “A mother gave birth to a hominid child after a long and exhausting labor. She barely had enough energy to nurse her baby and not enough energy to feed or care for her other children.”

“A miracle occurred,” writes Thomas. The maternal grandmother came to the rescue and intentionally shared her food with her grandchildren. It was a defining moment that created a new pattern of support that carried over to other families. Humans have the distinction of being the only species with grandparents who deliberately help raise their grandchildren.

What do we know about grandparents? Here are 10 things that may be surprising:

The average age of a grandparent is 48 years, according to an AARP Grandparent Study.

Assuming the average lifespan is 78 years, the average person will likely be a grandparent for 30 years.

Grandparents are generous, making 45 percent of all cash contributions to nonprofit organizations.

Most grandparents say being a grandparent is the single most important role in their lives.

Today there are 70 million grandparents, representing one-third of our population.

Tradition counts: Many still bake cookies for their family.

Some have tattoos, others have used recreational drugs and a small percentage skydive.

Grandparents contribute to the economy. They collectively spend $179 billion per year on their grandchildren, according to an AARP study.

One out of 10 children live with a grandparent, according to U.S. Census data.

Grandparents are part of a multicultural future. An AARP study indicates one-third of grandparents surveyed have grandchildren of a different race or ethnicity than their own.

Many famous people have been raised by grandparents providing a launching pad for their success. They include Oprah Winfrey, Willie Nelson, Carol Burnett, Pierce Brosnan, Jack Nicholson, Maya Angelou and former presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. Add to that list Olympic star gymnast Simone Biles.

Grandparents are raising grandchildren. About 2.3 million grandparents have direct responsibility for their grandkids with 18 percent living in poverty and a quarter living with disabilities. And at least 140,000 children orphaned by the pandemic are living with grandparents or next of kin.

Not everyone has a living grandparent. However, in keeping with the original spirit of Grandparents’ Day, one could spend time with any older person who made an impact on your life. Consider visiting a nursing home with a person who doesn’t have a grandchild, emailing a mentor or making any gesture that shows appreciation for older adults. Also note the opportunity to attend a free series of virtual mini-classes to celebrate Grandparents Week sponsored by Generations United from September 19-16, 2023. To register, go to

Grandparents are an important influence – as guardians of family traditions, as unique friends to grandchildren and as teachers and givers of gifts. Let’s celebrate this special day and know that kindness is a universal language.

Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on issues of aging and the new retirement with academic, corporate and nonprofit experience. Contact Helen with your questions and comments at Visit Helen at and follow her on


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