Senior Power: I just discovered Grandparents Day…

By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Tuesday October 26, 2010 - 10:14:00 PM


It’s the first Sunday after Labor Day. West Virginia grandmother Marian McQuade campaigned for a national holiday to honor grandparents. President Jimmy Carter signed the proclamation, and the first Grandparents Day was observed on Sept. 9, 1979. 

Susan Sontag (1933-2004), possibly a grandmother herself, got serious about grandparents when she pointed out that “Fewer and fewer Americans possess objects that have a patina, old furniture, grandparents, pots and pans -- the used things, warm with generations of human touch, essential to a human landscape…”  

Political and social activist G. Norman Collie (1859-1942) didn’t hesitate to tell the world that “Grandchildren don’t make a man feel old; it’s the knowledge that he’s married to a grandmother.” Yuck. 

The G word has commercial appeal. Sponsored links on the Internet rely on it. “ Granny Pictures -- free mature sex pics in hardcore mature porno ... Includes Old granny porn. Save on Grannys, Wind ‘em up line 'em up and get ready for the Gran Prix & watch Racing Grannnies battle it out for the finish line at crippling speed ,” blares the ageist vendor. “Fighting Grandads” too. 

Elder porn is a fast-growing industry in Japan, the world’s second-largest pornography consumer after the U.S... Seventy-five year old Shigeo Tokuda -- father of two, grandfather of one –- stars in a series called Maniac Training of Lolitas . His role as a senior citizen who acts out with his daughter-in-law and nurses is famous. Prohibited Elderly Care Vol. 45 – is in production. 

Tokuda originally got into porn as a sideline to his salaried travel agent job. He doesn’t have any problems with the physical demands of the job, says he stays in shape by hiking and climbing with his wife. He usually stars with actresses in their early 20’s but has occasionally acted with women closer to his own age, including 73-year-old Fujiko Ito. Tokuda believes there’s a market for his movies in part because of the disintegration of the Japanese family unit. He views his popularity as a symptom of a society that’s growing old fast and often alone.  

Although Japan’s aging population exists in a culture that places emphasis on respect for the elderly, many Japanese seniors live in solitude, estranged from or ignored by their families. A recent government survey found that 24.4 per cent of men and 9.3 per cent of women over the age of 60 had no neighbors, friends or relatives they felt they could rely on in difficult times. (These data appear to be comparable to many Berkeley low-income senior housing tenants.) 

Tokyo Koto Geriatric Medical Centre’s Dr. Aiba says part of the reason for the decline in senior citizens’ standard of living is their living longer. The average lifespan is 79.6 years for men and 86.4 for women, which places new burdens on a society where a declining number of working-age Japanese must fund rising health-care and pension costs.  


Grandparents and boomers are making other news – defending their rights as they see them and taking on nontraditional roles and responsibilities as custodians and caregivers of their grandchildren. The U.S. Census Bureau considers a baby boomer to be someone born during the demographic Post-World War II birth boom between 1946 and 1964.  

Grandparents’ roles and rights have become contentious and controversial. Visitation, custody, honoring, legal standing and care-giving issues become even more complex when such factors as social class, ethnicity and race, proximity to grandchildren, and paternal and maternal grandparents are considered. A new line of grandparent research deals with their role during and after disruption of adult children’s marriages, focusing on grandmothers and on divorce. Given the rise in the divorce rate in recent years, this has had profound consequences on the grandparent role and has led to what has been called kinship reorganization. Grandparents have found that they may have been unintended losers in custody battles.  

Lawyer in the Library (Berkeley Public and Alameda County libraries), free legal information from Nolo Press, and Legal Assistance for Seniors (464 7th Street, Oakland, CA 94607 ) can be helpful as grandparents struggle to know about and get their rights. Listening to and reading grandparent Judge Judy Sheindlin (1942- ) won’t hurt either. 

Here are a few of the questions addressed at Nolo Press’ web site. Are grandparents entitled to visitation? What should I do if I want to limit my child's visitation with grandparents? What should I do if my grandchild's parent wants to limit my visitation? How do we deal with grandparents who limit visitation by lesbian mom? Learn how child visitation laws affect grandparents', stepparents', and caretakers' visitation rights. 

“Grandparents’ Rights…” by attorney Traci Truly is an example of the legal survival guide genre. Look for the latest edition. Truly provides forms and considers visitation, custody, adoption, parental preference, mediation, etc. as well as each state’s legal provisions. 

Many writers and researchers perceive and report separation and divorce fallaciously in terms of two parents who are, and continue to be, concerned about their children’s welfare. Millions of grandparents, by being the primary caregivers for their grandchildren , are taking on the responsibility of raising two generations. The U.S. Census Bureau reports: 

  • 6.1 million grandparents share their homes with their grandchildren younger than 18.
  • Of the grandparents who provide a basic need (e.g. food, shelter, clothing,) 1.4 million are employed; 477,000 earn incomes below the poverty line, and 730,000 have a disability. The Supplementary Survey of the 2000 Census reports on “Grandparents with own grandchildren under age 18” by poverty status during the previous 12 months.
  • 5.7 million children -- about 8 percent of all U.S. children -- live with a grandparent.
  • 30% of children younger than 5 years of age with working mothers are cared for by a grandparent on a regular basis during their mother's work hours.
In 2000 a Supreme Court decision sharply curtailed grandparents’ rights to sue for visits with their grandchildren. It ruled that a broad visitation statute in Washington state, which allowed even non-relatives legal standing, violated the constitutional rights of parents. Since 2000, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan and Washington courts have held their respective state statutes unconstitutional.  

It is possible for grandparents to obtain visitation rights in certain circumstances. Courts have recently sided with grandparents in cases involving the death or incarceration of a parent, for example, or with grandparents who have raised their grandchildren for a period of time only to be cut off suddenly from seeing them, or in cases in which grandchildren would be harmed by not seeing their grandparents. In some states, the laws say the court should decide based on what is in the best interest of the child. In other states, grandparents have to prove that the grandchild would be harmed if prevented from seeing the grandparents.  

AARP's grandparenting site at has information on caring for grandchildren, including those with special needs; spending time with them; and where to look for resources and assistance. Helpful links include: 

AARP Grandparent Information Center  

Foster Grandparent Program  

Foundation For Grandparenting; The Grandparent Foundation

Generations United

Grand Parent Again - Legal issues. 

Grandparents Association (UK)  

Grandparents Raising Grandchildren – U.S. Govt. 

Grandparents Magazine - free 

Kinship Care Resource Kit – Children's Defense Fund  

National Committee of Grandparents for Children's Rights  

State Fact Sheets for Grandparents and Other Relatives Raising Children ... To access the Fact Sheet for a particular state, click on the state www.grand  

Approximately 450,000 children under the age of 18 in Texas are being raised by their grandparents, ranking Texas second behind California in the number of grandparent-headed households. In 2000, 294,969 grandparents in California were responsible for raising their minor grandchildren, the highest number of such caregivers in the nation. 

Until recently, grandparents raising children were an overlooked part of California’s caregiver population. Substance abuse, the rise in single parent households, HIV/AIDS, sharp increases in female incarceration, teen pregnancy, and policy changes favoring foster care placement of children with relatives over non-relatives are among the reasons for dramatic growth in grandparent care-giving. 

Most of California’s custodial grandparents were married (75%), female (59%), and employed (56%). About 22% lived in poverty. Nine counties, including Alameda, had more than 10,000 grandparent caregivers, most in urban areas.  


The Berkeley Daily Planet has reported on numerous Raging Grannies events. Raging Grannies activist groups concerned with peace and environmental causes started in Victoria , British Columbia circa 1986/87 and are now in many communities and nations. They are women old enough to be grandmothers, who dress up in clothes, especially hats, that mock stereotypes of older women, and sing songs at protests. They typically write the lyrics, putting their political messages to the tunes of well known songs. “The Raging Grannies: wild hats, cheeky songs, and witty actions for a better world” by Carole Roy (1954- ) is in the Berkeley Public Library’s collection.  

Books like Adair Lara’s “The granny diaries; an insider’s guide for new grandmothers” glut the market. [Chronicle Books, 2008] Lara reports that the average age at which women become grandmothers remains steady at 47. In the last century, the average life expectancy was 47. “Because grandmothers used to be old people, near the end of their shelf life, the stereotype is of a comforting human antique trailing a faint smell of lavender and strewn with cookie crumbs, grateful for any time or attention she gets. …Grannies are all ages these days, ranging from thirties to nineties.”  


On Thursday, November 4, from 1:30-3 PM, the Alameda County Library Program for Older Adults’ Peggy Green will present “Living On A Fixed Income” at the Albany Library, 1247 Marin Ave. No reservations required. Refreshments.  

Helen Rippier Wheeler can be reached at  

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