“Will you take my picture with the girls?” My grandpap asked this question often. He always followed it up with, “I don’t know when something is going to happen to me, and I want them to see their great-grandfather and know that I love them.” I would set my happy girls on his lap, and snap away. He was always pleased with the results. One of the last times we were together, he had gotten his own camera, and asked that I take his picture with the girls again. I remember his face when I showed him the photos. He smiled and nodded his head. He was a simple man, and those simple snapshots were exactly what he wanted. One October Saturday soon after, my grandpap passed away in the woods where he grew up. His heart was weak, and while out enjoying nature as he often did, his heart gave out. He died doing what he loved, and there is much to learn from his simple way of life. Although I was filled with regret for all of the days I wished I could have spent with him, I knew that those snapshots with my daughters were one of his last gifts to them and to me.
My grandfather’s simple life is not the type that is familiar to younger generations, but there is something to be said for spending time with members of generations past. Besides practical lessons such as growing a garden, making delicious meals from scratch and putting up food for the winter, our elders can share amazing stories and firsthand memories of a bygone era. Even more importantly, the special loving relationship of a child and a grandparent (or other special older person) is important for any child’s development. It is important in our world of flashing screens, busy schedules, and instant gratification, to carve out chunks of our oh-so-precious time to share across the generations.
Although many families have obvious choices for inter-generational relationships such as grandparents, great-grandparents, great-aunts, and great uncles, many families do not. These families should not be left out from the amazing benefits of inter-generational relationships. Many times neighbors, family friends, or fellow church or community center members can fill the void for families who lack members of the older generations*. Another idea for families who desire to seek out inter-generational relationships is to volunteer at a local nursing home or senior center. Whether coming to help with activities or just stopping by for regular visits, volunteers are always appreciated. If your family doesn’t live close, technology can make spending time with them easier than ever.
Whether your children are young adults or infants, it is important to foster their relationship with older generations. These relationships, however, do not always fall into place naturally. We can work to lay the foundation for bonding by requesting that older generations teach our families a specific skill. As a child, I watched my grandpap teach my mom to can food, and my grandma taught me everything I know about cleaning. My dad taught me how to bait a fish hook, and now I smile when he treks with my daughter through the forest to his favorite fishing hole. Take advantage of learning these practical skills first hand, and ask your older family members or friends to teach your family.
Some things your children might enjoy learning could be:
Cooking from scratch
There’s something special about passing down skills, recipes, and other tips through the generations, and years down the road your children may smile as they remember their loved one with every loaf they bake or seed they plant.
As your family’s relationship with older generations blossoms, you may find that deep and meaningful family history is revealed. One of my favorite memories as a teen and young adult was to sit at my grandparent’s dining room table after a family meal and listen to my grandparents and my cousin’s grandfather talk about their childhood. It was amazing to hear of such a different world right in the same area where I currently live. I can’t imagine my children begging for apple cores or amusing themselves with tin cans. A part of me, however, wishes that the neighborhood kids still gathered at the field near the creek for baseball each day.
As I listened to these memories and many more with rapt attention, part of me ached for a permanent record of this fleeting oral history. I vowed to start writing down everything I could remember about these conversations, and now my hastily scrawled notes about these conversations is all that I have left of so much family history. I still have much to learn from my grandmothers and my great aunts and uncles, so my book has not seen its last chapter yet. There are many ways that your family can document these amazing memories and histories that are shared during your visits, including:
Keep a memory journal
Compile a video documentary
Label a family tree
Update a website or blog of family history
Do an interview about a historical event in which your loved one took part
Assemble a scrapbook filled with photos and journal entries
Ask older family members to help you label photos with names of people, places, and dates
Create a family slideshow to share on holidays or on special visits
The more time you spend with older family members or friends, the stronger your children’s bonds will be with those family members. It makes my heart soar when my daughters cheer at the mention of extended family members because I do not want their relationship to be stuffy or uncomfortable. Children thrive when they have loving relationships with people who are not disciplinarians. Grandparents and Aunts and Uncles and older family friends can often be those caring older companions who do not have to issue consequences as parents, teachers, and other guardians often do. There are a few things that parents might do to encourage that important bond, such as:
:: During special visits, don’t be as strict with the rules. It’s not worth creating tension in the family in order to avoid a little sugar.
:: Save special songs, games, and toys for the child(ren) to use only with that family member.
:: Send extra clothes, socks, blankets, toothbrush and toys to leave at family members’ houses. This allows for a quick change in the case of a spill or accident, and it allows for a sleepover if the invitation is extended.
:: Model affection for older family members, but do not force the child to give hugs or kisses if they are uncomfortable. High fives are a great way to show physical affection without making children uncomfortable. The child will be more affectionate when they are ready.
:: Take as many photos of the family as possible.
There are many reasons to encourage relationships across generations including learning valuable skills, sharing oral family history, and encouraging important bonds between children and their extended family. I had 28 years with my grandpap, but I still long for more. I had so much more I wanted to learn, so many more stories I wanted to hear, and so much more love to give and receive. James (4:14) says, “You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” Take each year, each month, each week, each day, and each moment for what it is– a sacred opportunity. Right now is our chance to teach our children to cherish each moment with the older generations.
*Parents should be wise about supervising their children with non-family members until they are deemed truly trustworthy.
Becki Lewis is a wife, mom, musician, and educator. She lives in a quiet rural/suburban neighborhood near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where she gardens, hikes, geocaches, bakes, and gets messy with her two sweet girls. You can read about her family’s adventures in going green at Organic Aspirations and about all things music at Lewis Music Studio.