Put Out into the Deep

Grandparents Play a Special Role in Families

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

On Sept. 9, we celebrate National Grandparents Day in the United States. It is a day when organizations come together to celebrate the role of grandparents. In the past, when extended families lived close to one another, grandparents played an important part in the education and rearing of their grandchildren. Unfortunately, as our mobile society has separated families, sometimes across the country and the world, for many reasons grandparents seem not to be as critical in helping as they were in the past.

Recent trends, however, have brought grandparents back into the role of nurturing their grandchildren. One unfortunate instance is the opioid epidemic where many parents are unable to rear their children, and it falls to the grandparents to take up this vital role. There are many other tragic situations where parents die in accidents or due to illness. When a parent is absent for one reason or another, grandparents seem to step into the breach.

In my own life growing up, we lived with my mother’s parents. After the Second World War, housing was tight. As my father was in the service, my mother continued to live with her parents and so did we, as their children were born. Many years later, and after my grandfather died, my father was able to buy a house large enough so that my grandmother could live with us too. Later on, after his father died, my father’s mother came to live in that home with my father and mother. Extended families provide additional support for those who are in need. This gives the relational and emotional support that many lack in today’s society, since they have separated from close family and relations.

Grandparents are known for spoiling their grandchildren. But what other role do grandparents have than to give their grandchildren what their children’s parents do not seem to want to give to their children? This, of course, can be exaggerated; however, there is some wisdom to this special role. Grandparenting in the family structure is an essential aspect of bringing experience and wisdom to many situations.

In immigrant communities, the role of grandparents is certainly even more critical. Many grandparents who immigrate with their children become the childcare providers and the stable force since they are not in the workplace. They provide, however, invaluable assistance for working-immigrant parents. Unfortunately, the formulation of the new immigration regulations threaten to stop what has been labeled “chain migration,” a process that allows extended family members to migrate with those who hold immigrant visas. This would also affect the ability of immigrant families to sustain jobs in the workforce by having grandparents living with their extended families.

The reliance on the extended family, especially among new Latino immigrants, reflects cultural expectations and norms that are common in their home countries. In recent times, some have thought it irrelevant or non-productive to have grandparents overly involved in the rearing of their grandchildren. This is an unfortunate development that hopefully will change as people realize the positive influence that grandparents can have on children, and also on the parents of their grandchildren.

One interesting development has been the establishment of the Catholic Grandparents Association that grew out of grandparents, who on various pilgrimages, recognized the special role that they had in raising their grandchildren.  Catherine Wiley, grandmother, and founder of the Catholic Grandparents Association in Ireland, recognized that grandparents seemed to be the only ones who were transmitting the Catholic faith to their grandchildren. Mrs. Wiley visited the Diocese of Brooklyn several years ago and encouraged us to begin a branch of this association. We have appointed Deacon Armand D’Accordo who will oversee our local chapter. Mrs. Wiley was especially active in the recent World Meeting of Families in Ireland, making sure that grandparents had a special role in that celebration.

Grandparents can and have always wanted only the best for their children and their grandchildren. This is especially true when it comes to the transmission of our Catholic faith. The faith cannot be taught, it must be caught. The faith is caught by the witness of those around us.  Grandparents truly have that unique ability to share their life experience, especially their faith, to their offspring and their grandchildren.

Becoming a grandparent is a wonderful and exciting experience. I know from my brother and sister how happy they are to be grandparents; my brother has 10 grandchildren and my sister has two, which gives me 12 great nieces and nephews.  It is so wonderful to be with them when they all are gathered together. Grandparents truly put out into the deep when they take special responsibility for assisting their children in the bringing up of their own children. Join me in celebrating National Grandparents Day by praying for all grandparents, especially those who have the full responsibility raising their grandchildren because of some tragic circumstance in the family.

Prayer for Grandparents

Lord Jesus, you were born of the Virgin Mary, the daughter of Saints Joachim and Anne.

Look with love on grandparents the world over.

Protect them! They are a source of enrichment for families, for the Church and for all of society.

Support them! As they grow older, may they continue to be for their families strong pillars of Gospel faith, guardian of noble domestic ideals, living treasuries of sound religious traditions.

Make them teachers of wisdom and courage, that they may pass on to future generations the fruits of their mature human and spiritual experience.

Lord Jesus, help families and society to value the presence and roles of grandparents.

May they never be ignored or excluded, but always encounter respect and love.

Help them to live serenely and to feel welcomed in all the years of life which you give them.

Mary, Mother of all the living, keep grandparents constantly in your care, accompany them on their earthly pilgrimage, and by your prayers, grant that all families may one day be reunited in our heavenly homeland, where you await all humanity for the great embrace of life without end. Amen!

– Pope Benedict XVI

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