Intergenerational Relationships Rock
Research shows the importance of seniors in the lives of children, and though we think first of grandparents, elders need not be biological relatives to forge deep and lasting relationships. What counts is the connection between adult and child, a deeply felt knowledge that theirs is a special bond built on mutual acceptance and constancy. Children thrive with such unconditional love. Even the most devoted parents cannot provide what elders do.
As a child I was blessed by the presence of elders in my life, some relatives, others not, who happily gave me the gift of their time and undivided attention. Time had a different quality. We were unhurried, at ease, comfortable. We shared stories, sometimes while simply sitting together. Other times while doing chores or engaged in a mutually satisfying activity.
Pots of Gold, Spring Water, and Blackberry Brambles
I learned about leprechauns and shamrocks as Mrs. Higgins told stories of her native Ireland. Cousin Mary took me for rides in her Model A Ford and invited me to sleepover in her cabin in the woods where water came from a natural spring and had to be hauled to the house.
My maternal grandmother took me berry picking, cautioned me to pay attention to the brambles, and as we cut through the cow pasture, to keep a sharp eye out for cow patties. Later I made a blackberry roll under her gentle guidance and learned that some people know how to cook without recipes. On wood burning stoves.
All strong and nurturing, these women made a positive impression on me. They were accepting and encouraging, generous of spirit. They enjoyed our time together as much as I did. Ours was a mutual admiration society.
Having positive relationships across generations helps everyone. Younger ones learn when and how to lend a hand, and elders, accustomed to their independence, learn to appreciate and accept thoughtful gestures of assistance.
Becoming An Elder
Now I am the elder and recognize, in a way I did not as a parent, that children are drawn to adults who slow their pace and savor the present. Parents have so many responsibilities that calming their minds and being in the moment often eludes them. Having “been there and done that,” we know the feeling. Current parents benefit from non-judgmental relationships with veteran parents. Hearing messages of encouragement and appreciation make a positive difference. And when do-able, offering harried parents a couple of hours of respite is a triple hitter that strengthens bonds all around.
Sharing Our Best Selves
To create mutually respectful intergenerational bonds, we must pay attention. Listen attentively. Show compassion. Respond gently. If we want those we cherish to be open and honest, we must be willing to acknowledge what we’re being told without judging. Being critical is the least effective way of communicating. We can be honest and compassionate. We have feelings and need to respect ourselves as well as those around us. Honesty and kindness strengthen our connections.
We need to share our stories. Our lives may seem ordinary to us but to the child who adores us, we’re fascinating creatures who’ve lead extraordinary lives. And we’re fun and funny.
Change occurs so quickly now that even we are in disbelief of all we’ve experienced. We grew up in different times. What once was the norm, now often seems like ancient history. Yet it still has the power to impress.
Steam trains are relics of the past, yet every week-end, weather permitting, enthusiastic families show up at Los Angeles Live Steamers Railroad Museum to ride the 1/8th scale model trains and learn railroad history and lore.
To our adult children (or others of their age), we bring experience. If we’re willing to listen without telling them what they should do, we can offer encouragement and likely learn something along the way. To quote the Beatles, we all “get by with a little help from…friends.” We live longer, healthier, and happier lives when we’re well connected with people both older and younger than we.
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