Bridging the Gap of Generations
I'm a parent first and psychologist second, but I constantly find the latter shedding light on the former. As a young parent with parents of my own who were born in the mid 40's, today I continually experience the unique clash between generations of the new and the traditional, the personal and distant. My parents come from an age where social norms were summed up by a firm handshake and locked eye contact, which as a perspective often struggles to find root in my world of 5 second texts, countless emails, and remote contract working. Thus I find myself wishing there was a better way for my children to connect with my parents and to learn from their vast array of experiences. My concern here is that our children bare the brunt of the confusion that results when the gap between generations is so distinct and at often times so tumultuous.
The Parents of Parents
The difficulty, or one of the many at least, is deciphering how to evolve the personal experiences of our own childhood into the maxims of parenthood. So to understand our parents we need to look at the world they grew up in. Research, biographies, and popular culture all depict the 40's, 50's, and even the early 60's as a time when the American Dream was most clear and most tangible. As a country, we had just struck down the Nazi empire and demonstrated our position as both the moral and economic leaders in the evolving modern world. In my personal experience, I find this translates to a certain confidence of mind and morality in our parents who grew up during that time.
My point is that, parents from this generation seem battered with a double-sided and cold reality where the current world differs so drastically from the one they were raised in, and yet they feel theirs was the right one. I see this play out in grand-parenting styles most commonly in three distinct ways--not that every behavior pattern fits this model. Either they become extremely dedicated to instilling the truth of their generation, or they become angry and embittered by their struggle to find a relevant place for their perspectives. The third and perhaps worst direction this can lead is an ambivalence where our parents may even give up on building authentic relationships with our children of this new world.
Aspiring to improve these relationships can unlock better lives for our children and our parents. A 2016 study from Boston University demonstrated that when youth and their elders maintain strong relationships, both will experience lower risks of depression. Similarly, a 2014 study from the Journal of the American Gerontological Society showed that when grandparents spend more time with their grandchildren during their younger years, the grandparents experienced more instances of bonding and showed even greater resilience to mood disorders and illnesses such as depression.
Susan Newman, a social psychologist and author of "Little Things Mean a Lot: Creating Happy Memories with Your Grandchildren" also implores us to involve our parents in the lives of our children. She writes that grandparents often have more time and patience to offer, and so can provide a unique relationship to our children that they would otherwise live life without, which can provide greater security as they mature.
Bridging the Gap
To bridge the gap between generations, the first step is to identify what causes the gap. I believe the cause is the same thing that makes our generation and our children unique--we were born into, and are continuously more integrated into, the Age of Information. This results in many younger parents feeling that in this age of information, value away from more traditional parenting practices of older generations. After all, when parents have access to more parenting information than ever before in human history, the locus of control shifts more to each parents, who can search and research to their hearts content, rather than reaching out to their own parents as past generations have done. A quick google search of the term, "parenting information" conjures 320 million results in under 60 seconds. Need I say more?
Sites like parenting-ed and cdc.gov/parents act simultaneously as massive hubs of information and as directories to even more. How can grandparents compare to this? How many arguments have occurred between us and our parents about their experience versus what we have read online?
The solution I propose has some poetic justice in that our parents brought us into this world, and thus it is our responsibility to bring them into ours. I won't make the argument that they have an abundance of information that's wildly applicable to your children's lives, what I will argue is whether that is true or not does not matter. What matters is the relationship and the bond that will persist in the memories of our children.
To bring our parents into this modern world with us and our children, we simply need to involve them. Admittedly it's no easy task, though involving them may be as easy as sending them a link when our child's birthday approaches for gift ideas, instead of simply expecting them to know what to get, or to know how to get what we mention. Confusion may result or coaching may be required, but if that's the cost of bringing them into our world we should pay it. Here's a poignant article on how to coach our elders in using the internet.
One of the greatest fears of the elderly is their fear or being left out or left alone. the stark reality is as their children we are largely responsible for whether this reality plays out, and having an extra hand in raising our children is rarely a bad thing. In the end, what I am advocating is a change in perspective in young parents like myself: our parents are more than the information they offer, or the value of their experiences, they are potentially the heroes of our child's lives even if we have lost sight of when they were ours.