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Let’s Be Friends-Young, Old, and In Between

grandpa teaching toddler grandson to fish

Intergenerational Relationships Rock

Seniors are important in the lives of children. Research confirms the value of intergenerational connections. Although we think first of grandparents, elders need not be biological relatives to forge deep and lasting relationships. Unrelated adults and children easily form strong attachments. Ones 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. All happily gave me the gift of their time and undivided attention. Time had a different quality then. We were unhurried, at ease, comfortable. As we spent time together, we talked. Sometimes they shared stories of their childhoods. Other times I asked questions or sought their advice. Always I felt safe and loved.

Pots of Gold, Spring Water, and Blackberry Brambles

I learned about leprechauns and shamrocks from Mrs. Higgins. She shared stories of her native Ireland. Cousin Mary not only  took me for rides in her Model A Ford but also invited me to sleepover in her cabin in the woods. Where water came from a natural spring. And we carried what we needed in buckets.

When my maternal grandmother and I went berry picking, she cautioned me to pay attention to the  brambles. And as we crossed the cow pasture, to keep a sharp eye out for cow patties. Later I made a blackberry roll under her gentle guidance. That’s when I learned that some people know how to cook without recipes. On wood burning stoves.

Mutual Admiration Societies

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. Clearly forged  our own mutual admiration societies.

Everyone benefits from positive relationships across generations. Younger ones learn when and how to lend a hand. While 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 many more responsibilities. 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. We strengthen bonds all around when we give harried parents a couple of hours of respite. That’s a triple hitter.

We must pay attention if we want to create mutually respectful intergenerational bonds. 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.

Being Our Best Selves

We need to share our stories. Our lives may seem ordinary to us but to the child who adores us, we are absolutely fascinating. People who have lead extraordinary lives. Moreover we are not only fun but downright funny as well.

Change occurs so quickly now. Even we are in disbelief about all we’ve experienced. We grew up in different times. What once was the norm, now often seems like ancient history. Yet our stories have 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 as well as  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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