Senior citizens can bridge the generation gap and enjoy a special relationship with their grandchildren
Grandparents are meant to have a special relationship with their grandchildren – one they never had with their own children. They can be playful and indulgent with grandkids as they do not have to shoulder the responsibility of parenting. However, the generation gap, which brings with it differing interests and attitudes, and the digital divide, may pose problems.
Also, grandkids may resent their grandparents if they keeping giving them lectures and try to curtail their freedom. How can seniors navigate these challenges, bridge the generation gap, to have a wholesome and healthy relationship with their grandchildren? Here are some tips:
- Open communication and discussions are a must
- There are some contentious issues that elders may not be able to understand or accept. These may range from clothes, unorthodox career choices to sexuality. ‘Agree to disagree’ must be the mantra in these cases
- Seniors must seek to persuade rather than control
- They need to lend a listening, non-judgemental ear to earn the trust of their grandchildren
- They must give their grandkids unconditional love and security
- Grandparents who are cheerful and have a sense of humour get along better with their grandchildren
- Grandparents should find common activities they could enjoy with their grandkids depending on their age – reading, playing board games, going for walks, visiting a zoo, park or museum, watching a movie together, following sports, cooking or even just doing chores
- Grandparents must spend one-on-one time with each grandchild. This will create special memories for the child
- They should join in family celebrations like birthday parties and graduation ceremonies
- If grandkids live away, grandparents need to get tech-savvy and keep in touch through video calls and emails
Why are some grandparents closer to their grandchildren than others? According to the website www.verywellfamily.com, two social psychologists with an interest in aging, Dr. Merril Silverstein and Dr. Vern L. Bengtson, have identified six factors to explain what they call “intergenerational solidarity”. The six factors are physical proximity, frequency of contact, grandparents’ role in raising their grandkids, family culture and expectations, emotional bonding, and reaching a consensus on values.
Here, Ahmedabad-based senior citizens describe how they bond with their grandchildren. Sunita Prabhune’s granddaughters live with her. As a result, the bond between them is very strong. “We are a very musical family and my granddaughters are very interested in music. We play Antakshari and cards together. They call me ‘Aai’ (mother) as others call me by that name. When they come back from school we sit and talk and they share what happened that day. When I visit my sister, they miss me,” she says.
Susma Misra’s grandchildren live abroad. “Thanks to technology we connect through video calls every other day. It’s fantastic that we can see them and listen to them,” she says. Her husband Sasi Misra, a retired academic, adds: “We discuss my granddaughter’s interest in writing and my grandson’s fascination with gadgets. We also talk about my passion for feeding stray dogs.”
Former teacher Mahalakshmi Iyengar visits her grandchildren in Hyderabad and US often. “With my four grandchildren I follow a balanced approach to discipline. I neither overindulge them nor am I very strict. If they create a mess, I do not mind. Since I allow them freedom when I do tell them not to do something, they listen to me. I enjoy playing with them, whether board games or building blocks. I am very fond of reading myself, so I buy them books. I cook their favourite foods. They love the sweets I make,” she says.
According to the website extramile.thehartford.com, grandparents can play diverse roles in the lives of their grandchildren. They can be caregivers and nurturers, friends, fun-loving playmates and teachers. In addition, they can be historians (tell family stories, share pictures, help create a family tree), mentors (believe in their dreams and encourage them), and finally, role models.
The website goes on to say that as per recent studies, emotional closeness between grandparents and grandchildren can protect elders from depression, boost brain function and increase longevity. So, a close relationship between grandparents and grandchildren is mutually beneficial. It’s one of the most precious ties that binds two disparate generations.