“Young people need something stable to hang on to — a culture connection, a sense of their own past, a hope for their own future. Most of all, they need what grandparents can give them.”
— Jay Kesler, “Grandparenting: The Agony and the Ecstasy”
In the life of a child, a grandparent can play a pivotal role in their development, upbringing, and outlook on the world around them. The role of a grandparent is often versatile and ever-evolving as the child grows older and expresses different interests and needs. To children, grandparents can be mentors, chefs, historians, artists, coaches, confidants, playmates, storytellers and so much more.
Due to medical advances, people are living longer and healthier lives, increasing the number of grandparents in the world and creating more opportunities for deeper and enduring intergenerational bonds between the generations. The impact and difference a grandparent can make in a child’s life is invaluable and can sometimes be underestimated due to ageist beliefs. Grandparents should not underestimate the effect they can have on their grandchildren and the valuable role they play in their family.
One of the most meaningful and impactful things grandparents can do for their grandchildren is to share their family history. Listening to grandparents draw from their own personal experiences helps children get to know their grandparents on a deeper level, leading to stronger connections, while also teaching them family and cultural values, better understanding where they come from, and learning how to deal with challenges they may face in their own lives.
Stories passed down among the generations are often divided into three categories: directive, social bonding, and personal identity. Directive stories are often those that convey feelings of regret about past mistakes or missed opportunities, relaying the age-old adage of “don’t do what I did.” These help children learn from their elders’ past mistakes and how they can apply these lessons in their own lives. Social bonding stories revolve around happier memories, often centering around family traditions, celebrations and shared interests. These stories teach children family and cultural values and traditions. Finally, stories in the personal identity category help teach children where they come from and help children not only figure out who they are but also what that means in the context of their family, culture and community.
The wonderful thing about storytelling is that it doesn’t have to be an isolated activity. These conversations between generations are often sparked by activities they’re doing together, whether it be passing down family recipes while baking together, sharing stories behind photographs while scrapbooking, or demonstrating how they coped with the loss of a baseball game while playing catch together. So, if you’re wondering where to start with the types of stories or lessons you want to pass on to your grandchildren, it can be helpful to first determine what activities you’re both interested in and go from there.
As Elaine Reese, a psychologist from the University of Otago has said, “Family stories can be told nearly anywhere. They cost us only our time, our memories, our creativity. They can inspire us, protect us, and bind us to others. So be generous with your stories, and be generous in your stories. Remember that your children may have them for a lifetime.”
Carson De Fries, MSW, is the Intergenerational Program coordinator at the University of Denver’s Knoebel Institute for Healthy Aging. For more information please email Carson.DeFries@du.edu or visit www.du.edu/knoebel-institute-healthy-aging.
This column is hosted by the Seniors’ Council of Douglas County. Please join us for our community event, An Intergenerational Conversation, on Sept. 7 at the Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock. The event is free and open to the public. Registration is required and seating is limited. For more information about this event and registration, please visit www.MyDougCoSeniorLife.com.