Today is Grandparents Day, when we pause to honor and celebrate a generation that is making enormous contributions to our families and our country. It’s also a holiday that I just recently learned has an official flower with a striking name: the forget-me-not. Sadly, it got me thinking about how often grandparents as caregivers and breadwinners are forgotten in this country, notably in our public policies.
Grandparents today face significant – and increasing – work and family responsibilities. Nearly four in 10 grandparents in the United States are now responsible for the care of their grandchildren. And more than half of the seven million grandparents who live with their grandchildren are in the workforce.
Grandparents also need and depend on care from family members who have jobs. In fact, in 2009, more than five million unpaid family caregivers in the United States were caring for a grandparent or grandparent-in-law.
But despite this growing pressure on grandparents and their caregivers, under current federal law, neither grandparents who care for grandchildren nor grandchildren who care for grandparents can take job-protected time off to meet their caregiving needs. And it is a terrible and often devastating problem for families.
That’s why lawmakers at all levels need to prioritize and advance family friendly workplace policies that would support grandparents. At the federal level, there are already proposals in Congress that would help tremendously. The Family and Medical Leave Inclusion Act and the Family and Medical Leave Enhancement Act would expand access to unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act to grandparents so that both working grandparents and employed family caregivers can take job-protected leave when caregiving needs arise.
But giving grandparents and their caregivers access to unpaid leave isn’t enough. These workers – and all workers – need access to paid time off in order to meet their caregiving responsibilities without jeopardizing their economic security. And that’s why passing national paid sick days legislation like the Healthy Families Act and a paid family and medical leave insurance program are absolutely critical.
So, this Grandparents Day, let’s remember all that grandparents do, and urge our elected officials as well as candidates for office to stand up for the family friendly workplaces policies the nation needs. The forget-me-not may be the official flower of Grandparents Day, but it shouldn’t reflect the ways our policies neglect grandparents’ contributions and needs.