National Grandparents Day isn’t until Sept. 10, but the celebration of these steady and beloved family members already has started.
We can thank ill-advised politics for that.
The love fest began after a Supreme Court decision in June allowed the Trump administration to move forward with its partial travel ban on six predominantly Muslim countries. The decision required that people seeking visas to travel to the United States from Iran, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia prove a “bona fide relationship” to someone in the U.S.
But these bona fide relationships did not, initially, include grandparents or grandchildren, among others, although exceptions could be made on a case-by-case basis.
Within hours, social networks lit up in protest — and good humor — and the twitter handle #GrandparentsNotTerrorists was born.
“Revised #travelban will #keepamericasafe frm my 97yo #Iranian grandma &her radical belief that all meals need a glass of sherry &a cigarette,” tweeted @yasminradjy.
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court wisely left intact a U.S. District Court opinion from Hawaii that temporarily exempts Nana and Poppy and other relatives from the ban, sending the case to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
“The federal district court clarified for the country what almost every grandchild, niece and extended family member has long known: that grandmothers, aunts and other family members are invaluable members of our families and communities, and should be treated as such,” said Karen Tumlin, legal director of the National Immigration Law Center.
She also called the Trump administration’s interpretation “the antithesis of common sense.”
The case is a welcome reminder that grandparents are essential to a growing number of families, in Minnesota, across the country and around the world — and not just on one day a year.
More than 2.7 million American children are being raised by grandparents and other relatives, noted Janet Salo, family support specialist for Kinship Family Support Services, a program of Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota. More than 23,000 Minnesota grandparents are raising nearly 50,000 grandchildren, according to the most recent U.S. Census data.
These children, Salo said, “thrive with grandparents, and have a far more stable life than they would have if placed in nonrelative foster care.”
She said, “Every day, I am amazed at how people are willing to sacrifice their retirement plans and put their own life on hold to provide the consistency to help these children with medical and mental health issues, school and relationships with their parents, when possible. The impact on their own finances and plans is tremendous.”
Many grandparents step up because of a crisis, Salo said. A parent might be dealing with a mental health or substance abuse issue that, hopefully, can be resolved. Other elders take over the role of surrogate parent beginning at the grandchild’s birth because of the death or incarceration of a parent, or HIV/AIDS.
“Because most of these children have experienced trauma in their lives, to have someone there who has known them for quite some time, is consistent and has the ability to connect with other family members is inspiring to me,” Salo said. Kinship Family Support Services (lssmn.org/kinship caregivers) offers consultations, support groups and educational workshops for grandparents raising grandchildren, she said.
Sometimes grandparents never stepped out. Many cultural and ethnic communities never got away from the standard three-generational household, said Kari Benson, executive director of the Minnesota Board on Aging. “They continue to do that in the U.S.,” she said.
Data from the American Community Survey from 2011 to 2015, for example, indicate that nearly 42,000 U.S. households are multigenerational, defined as having three or more generations under one roof.
When grandparents are under that roof, Benson said, “they are such a valuable resource, in terms of wisdom and experience. We see their roles as so varied; friend, teacher, hero, family historian.”
Even flower girl.
When Abby Mershon walked down the aisle for her Mankato wedding on July 1, she followed a special flower girl: her 92-year-old grandmother, Georgiana Arlt.
The story was picked up by “ABC World News Tonight,” “Good Morning America,” People magazine and the Daily Mail.
“It was a question of ‘Who am I closest with?’ ” said Mershon, who grew up near her grandparents and learned how to cook from Arlt.
Dr. Hassan Ismail dreams of being able to share a similar story. The Medina dentist left Syria as a young boy. His parents, who now live in Saudi Arabia, have yet to meet the youngest of his three children, ages 10, 8 and 3.
“They came multiple times before to visit, and it was no problem,” said Ismail, who also holds a teaching position in the School of Dentistry at the University of Minnesota. His mother was planning to visit Minnesota this year, he said, “but, now, with all this noise, she doesn’t want to try to apply for a visa. My 8-year-old asked, ‘So, we will never be able to see Grandma and Grandpa?’ I said that is not true, but they hear the news and think we’re disconnected.
“The last time he saw her he was 5,” Ismail said. “They played together, they had treats together. But, now, the kids forget. I dream of a family reunion with my brothers and sisters and my parents, but I don’t want to dream too big.”