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Bridging the generational gap

This past week while meeting with a new client, I witnessed something that took me a while to absorb. Compassion and a great richness of life is fostered in households where three generations live under one roof.

This new client, a 96-year-old grandma, just recently moved in to her daughter’s house. During the meeting with this family, their 15-year-old son came home with a number of friends. It appeared that a couple of the boys had met the grandmother before. They embraced her with a hug and said it was nice to see her again. It was neat to see the grandmother recall information from her earlier conversations with the boys and ask them questions. Each young teen lit up as the grandmother addressed them — all except for two young men who sat at the furthest edge of the couch.

I watched these two young men as they sat off to the side and spoke amongst themselves. I wondered why they were not also engaging in the conversation with their friends and grandma. Perhaps they felt left out as they had not met the grandma before? Or perhaps they felt uncomfortable around an elderly person?

I soon found out it was both. Grandma noticed the two boys sitting off to the side and asked them to come sit next to her. One of the two young men, without any trepidation, immediately got up and sat next to grandma. This left one of the boys sitting alone. He got up and walked to the kitchen. He actually removed himself from the situation.

It was strange to observe his reactions. I wondered why he did not feel comfortable with the situation. I wondered if he was shy or he had not been around older people before. Soon enough, I found out. When the boys finished talking to grandma, they all went to the kitchen and raided the fridge. As they sat and ate, I heard the one boy who got up alone say, “Dude, your grandma is creepy and old.” A couple of boys briefly teased him while others commented how cool she was and remarked, “She actually met President Johnson!”

The comment about grandma being “creepy and old” gave me pause. How sad it was that the young boy obviously not been exposed to being around elders and was uncomfortable.

I believe my grandparents were my greatest teachers and a blessing to me. My dad’s father introduced me to classical and jazz music. My love of music is directly attributed to the times he spent with me at the Hollywood Bowl listening to Beethoven, Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky and the LA Philharmonic. His sharing of Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, Glenn Miller, Count Basie, and one of my all-time favorites, Frank Sinatra, has enriched my life. I share this love and passion for music with my kids and smile every time my daughter hears one of these musicians on the radio and names the song and musician.

My grandmother introduced me to great foods from many countries, spaetzle, pierogi, stroganoff, fondue, rösti or potato latkes, and my all-time favorite: jello molds with fresh fruit and a cream cheese fruit base. It’s no wonder why I looked at hotel and restaurant management colleges when it came time for me to go to college.

My relationship with, and my respect for, my grandparents probably has much to do with how I found my way to my current career.

Whether physical, emotional or psychological, absence in relationships can produce apathy in relationships. The inability of a child to connect with, understand and empathize with grandparents may show precursors of an inability to establish long- and short-term interpersonal relationships.

I’ve also been in the homes of families where three generations are living together and the situation is quite different. Within these families, grandchildren often show great amounts of indifference to their grandparents — even a little bit of contempt. I wonder how the children in these families will grow up. Are they missing something in life by not being interested in the stories of their grandparents? Are they not interested in the wisdom that has come with the number of years being on this earth? Are they being robbed of the opportunity to learn and gain insight into old age, things that are part of life and development of compassion?

Encourage children to take an interest in Grandma or Grandpa by including them in the daily aspects of an elderly person’s life. Children who are taught to respect their elders are much more inclined to help take care of them. Many studies show that children who have developed close emotional bonds to grandparents are more understanding and patient with people including those with disabilities.

Make your children available to their grandparents.

• Invite hometown grandparents to children’s events and keep out-of-town grandparents aware of events so they can plan trips around key happenings.

• Encourage grandparents to share their life stories and family history.

• Tell your children about fun things you remember from growing up with your parents.

• Encourage your children to share their art, projects, achievements and experiences with their grandparents.

If your elderly relatives are not available, consider including your family in senior activities available throughout the community.

Spending time with the elderly and learning of their life experiences can be very beneficial to our youth and their development into becoming tomorrow’s leaders.

Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Garfield County. His contact information is, http://www.visitingangels.com/comtns, 970-328-5526.