Whether it’s nana and papa, granny and gramps, or oma and popsi, many of us lovingly bestow special nicknames upon our grandparents.
It’s a special relationship, the one we have with our eldest elders. And every year, on the first Sunday after Labor Day, we honor them. The national holiday known as Grandparents Day has been celebrated since 1978, with the goal of recognizing the important contributions seniors have made throughout history.
“Grandparents and older adults are so very important in our lives,” said Hallie Guzal, life enrichment programmer at St. Anne’s Mead Senior Care Community in Southfield. “Grandparents have freeness with grandchildren that they did not have with their own children, focusing on fun and memories rather than their basic needs.”
The relationship fostered between older and younger generations is of mutual benefit. The young can learn from the old, from the wisdom they’ve earned from life experiences, and the old can learn from the young regarding changes in the world.
“What they can share (with) a younger generation … as far as family history, along with life lessons, is so beneficial,” Guzal said. “Giving the elders a chance to share and converse allows them to … reflect and educate on the days when they were younger, allowing the young person to learn from the past.”
Betsy Pilon, director of life enrichment at American House Senior Living Communities, which includes locations in Clinton Township, Roseville, Sterling Heights, Farmington Hills, Hazel Park, Rochester Hills, Southfield, Royal Oak, Troy and West Bloomfield, sees firsthand the value of this relationship.
“I am a strong believer of the benefits to everyone when you mix up the generations,” Pilon said, adding that the organization has a strong push for intergenerational programming.
The kids keep the old folks on their toes, as well.
“It keeps the residents more active and more excited,” Pilon said. “They light up around children. Some of the residents suffering from dementia who might be introverted really come out of their shell around children. I think there’s so much we can learn from our elders; I think it’s important for children to have those connections.”
These relationships can still be developed in a nontraditional sense. Many organizations and senior communities offer ways for elders and youths to get together and form a bond, regardless of familial relation. Catholic Social Services of Oakland County, for example, offers a foster grandparents program, in which elders can volunteer to work with troubled or needy children.
And some elders take on a whole different role in the lives of their children’s children. Oakland Livingston Human Service Agency offers a special program that recognizes grandparents raising grandchildren.
“They’re a little bit different kind of a grandparent,” said Bette Thomas, family service coordinator for OLHSA. “They put out more. They have to do the disciplining, the financial part of it, the schooling part. Our grandparents are invaluable. They are valued so much, because they do choose to raise their grandchildren. They don’t have to choose to do that. They’re usually in retirement or they’re on a set income because their own children have already been raised, and all of a sudden, they have three or four grandchildren, and it’s like starting all over again.”
The grandparents in Thomas’ group range in age from 35 to 86, and the average number of grandchildren they’re raising is three.
“They are valuable because they are there to spend quality time with their grandchildren, and they take them anywhere they need to go as a mother (or father) would,” Thomas said.
This year, Grandparents Day falls on Sept. 11.