March 6, 2017

The benefits of intergenerational experiences

The way life is structured today, we are insulated from a lot of experiences prior generations benefited from. Our social lives are often structured according to age: grades/schools, careers, ages of our kids, retirement communities, church groups, book clubs, as well as fitness classes. Our families often live hours or plane rides apart, making opportunities for intergenerational get-togethers infrequent. As a result, we tend to interact on most days with peers who are in similar age groups. Specifically, the predominant influencers in many of our children’s lives are their peers.image1

However, intergenerational experiences contribute to our children feeling more connected, allowing them to see beyond their own horizons. Throughout my own life, I have reflected on how intergenerational interactions have made me feel, how they have shaped me, and how those interactions broadened my horizons.

Just yesterday, we participated in an intergenerational baking activity with members of our church. The youth gathered in the older members’ homes and collaborated on a recipe together. I saw how special the opportunity was while observing the bakers of varying ages interact with one another. The youth and adults felt important, as well as a sense of belonging to a community.

On the drive home, I shared stories about how similar interactions throughout my life gave me a greater appreciation for people of all ages and taught me about the world. While sharing these accounts, I thought about how amazing it would be to allow my kids the opportunity to experience some of the same (minus the paper route).

– When I was little, I visited nursing homes with my dance class. And I loved it! We would perform a ballet arrangement and then chat with the residents. I felt loved even though they didn’t know me.

– Another fond memory was visiting with my best friend’s grandmother. We would spend hours at her home and sometimes spend the night. Grammie Ruth would give us money to walk to the corner store to get ice cream. We always got mint chocolate chip that came with loving conversation once back in her kitchen. She would allow us to explore her house, where we would find treasures and stories in the attic. It was special and she made me feel special. I never had grandparents who lived in this country or who spoke English as their first language. I thought I was so lucky to have shared in Tara’s Grammie time. And I thought she was so lucky to have Grammie Ruth whenever she wanted. Every child needs a grandparent or grandparent-like role model.

– While growing up, there was an elderly lady who lived across the street. Audrey would come over for tea and conversations with my mom and me. I used to pretend she was my own grandmother but never told anyone. Audrey would take us out to lunch, give birthday presents, and ask questions about my life. She warmed my heart and I unknowingly (at the time) warmed hers.

– When I was in the seventh grade, I decided I wanted to have a paper route. Getting up at 5:30 AM, 365 days a year was not the easiest. But I loved Tuesday night collections when I got to speak with all the older people on my route. I still remember Mrs. Farlow’s fudge, candy apples, and hugs.

– In my early 20s, I rescued a greyhound and took him to nursing homes. I cherished the exchange of stories as they cherished my visit.

And now as a parent, I recognize how intergenerational experiences add an appreciation and richness to my own children’s lives. While they are fortunate to have loving and present grandparents, they can’t be in Charlotte all the time. So when the opportunities arise to nourish them through intergenerational opportunities, we get involved.

At Christmastime, we deliver bread and cards to residents of nursing homes, which is coordinated through our church. Some of these residents are very old and frail. Our kids give them their undivided attention. They learn not to fear aging and more importantly, they learn to respect aging. And they learn to slow down and reflect on their stories. I can still see the gratitude in the residents’ eyes.

Our kids need many positive role models in their lives. The more they have, the stronger their foundation. And who better to help build their foundations than those who have have already experienced so much of life. Each intergenerational experience weaves a sense of community into children, allowing them to to feel part of something that is much bigger than themselves. It takes a village. And there is not a app for that. Disconnect and reconnect through our elders. They know a lot more about life than Wikipedia!

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