Here's the story: Thirty years ago Marian McQuade, an upstanding West Virginia housewife -- mother of 15, grandmother of 40! -- helped convince President Jimmy Carter to sign a proclamation declaring every second Sunday in September National Grandparents Day.
Nice idea, but have you ever heard of this holiday?
More to the point, have either your adult children or your grandchildren ever taken notice and celebrated you on your special day?
Mine haven't. None of my grandparent-friends has been properly feted either. And, according to a recent grandparents.com poll, the holiday goes unobserved by 66 percent of U.S. grandparents -- and their apparently ungrateful children.
A Modest Proposal
So, since this so-called "holiday" still hasn't caught on nationwide, I propose an amendment to its name and mission that I plan to introduce to President Obama straightaway. (I don't see how he can refuse to sign it; after all, if it weren't for Marian Robinson, Michelle Obama's mother, do you think the President and the First Lady would be able to go out on so many nice dates?) Instead of the wussy-sounding Grandparents Day, I propose we get real and change the holiday's name to Let Grandparents Have Their Say Day.
This would be the one day of the year when grandparents can say what they really think, without fear of reprisal from the parents of their grandchildren -- i.e., their sons and daughters and their often-testy partners.
Of course, it must be said that we adore our kids and for the most part believe they're doing a fabulous job of raising our grandchildren. But let's face it: Today's grandparents may have been rabble-rousers in the 1960s, speaking truth to power, but when it comes to speaking our minds to our adult children, we've morphed into the Silent Generation. Me included, despite the fact that all my life I've been told I have a "smart mouth."
One grandparent who wrote to grandparents.com put it bluntly: "I keep my mouth shut so I don't lose access to my grandkids." In Eye of My Heart, the collection of essays on grandmotherhood that I edited, Anne Roiphe writes, "I don't want to risk hurting my children, who hear my voice in a special way. A friend or neighbor can say almost anything without raising hackles. I can say almost nothing without causing pain."
Roiphe has a good point -- even grown-up children are extremely vulnerable to parental criticism. Every time my 94-year-old mother glances sideways at my hair, I cringe. She doesn't have to open her mouth.
Can We Talk?
Still, if the urge to have our say is universal, so is the tendency to bite our tongues. In another grandparents.com poll, 58 percent of grandparents said they keep mum on the subject of how their grandchildren are being raised. Seventeen percent said that they can be upfront only with their own children. But 25 percent said that they could say anything to the kids' parents.
Who are these people?
I don't know any grandparents who would be brave (or dumb) enough to let it rip. (One caveat: In situations where grandchildren are being abused, neglected or otherwise harmed, grandparents must speak up.) As far as I can tell, most of us pussyfoot around, terrified that if we make one tiny misstep or say even one-tenth of what we think, our adult children will retaliate and ban us from ever seeing our grandchildren again in this, our current, lifetime.
Thus, the urgent need for my amendment. There simply has to be one day a year when we can speak our minds without consequences. If this sounds self-indulgent, so be it. (Clearly, I'm nowhere near as altruistic and upstanding as Marian McQuade -- she of the 40 grandchildren.)
What would you tell the kids' parents if you had one day to speak without repercussions? Imagine you had one day (maybe Grandparents Day) to say whatever you wanted to your grandkids' parents. It might sound something like this compilation of comments made by friends of mine and visitors to Grandparents.com. The really scary part is that many of these sentiments could have been expressed 50 -- or possibly 500 -- years ago:
Hello! Her (or his) parents aren't the only grandparents in this family.
I'd like to tell the father (or mother/stepmother/stepfather) of my grandkids to get a job.
Yoo-hoo! I know you're busy, but please keep me in the loop.
Let me see the kids more often. No matter how great a parent you are, you can't take the place of a grandparent.
I love you -- so let's not talk about politics or religion.
Be their parent, not just their friend.
Do you really think she needs to play soccer, study violin, volunteer in a homeless shelter and enroll in a pre-pre-PSAT course before she starts kindergarten?
News flash: You don't have to buy every video game, electronic gizmo, and wildly expensive toy they ask for. (P.S. Books are a lot cheaper.)
I agree that we don't want to raise our daughters to be anorexic, but offering a chubby 10-year-old a third helping of pasta isn't a good idea.
I respect your parenting style, but believe it or not I know a few things too -- and they're not all covered on the internet.
Stop using the TV as a baysitter, get your nose out of your laptop and BlackBerry, and play with your child!
Skype? Webcams? Videos? Can't I just see the kids in person once in a while?
Please, never use the kids as weapons against the grandparents or each other.
Just in case you're wondering, discipline is not a dirty word.
Why are you asking him? He can't even talk yet!
Stop fighting in front of your kids. They're starting to mimic your behavior.
Children are not short adults. Be more patient. Explain, don't scold.
Stop making your children grow up before their time. They'll have plenty of opportunity to dress like hookers later on.
What We Know:
Enjoy your kids while you can, because before you blink they're grown up and gone.
There is simply no substitute for a bond with a grandparent. As Margaret Mead wrote, "The closest friends I have made all through life have been people who grew up close to a loved and loving grandmother or grandfather."
And just in case you're wondering what I would say if I could, well ... I'll get back to you just as soon as the president signs my new Let Grandparents Have Their Say Day proclamation.