One of the great joys of the holidays is the opportunity for the generations to spend time and connect. It’s one of the most overlooked highlights of the season, in my opinion.
Instead, we cringe when the loudest cousin charges over to Grandma, bursting with a big announcement.
We’re not sure how Grandma will take it. Is the kid going to say something crazy or offensive? Will the impending story be a disrespectful waste of the elder’s time?
In my experience, the relationship between kids and older folks comes naturally. The exchange often happens more easily than some of our interactions with seniors.
Instead of shielding the kids from their great grandparents and great aunts and uncles, we should be encouraging them to spend time together.
Plus, your older relatives are from a totally different generation. They have thicker skin than you realize. They’ve seen a lot, and they aren’t surprised by much.
The holidays are a great opportunity to make intergenerational connections happen.
The last stronghold
Studies show there are tons of benefits of intergenerational connections. After spending time with kids or young adults, seniors benefit from better physical and mental health. Their emotional wellbeing improves.
And yet, our culture often splits up the generations. Kids go to school with their peers. Your workplace is filled with people your age. Seniors spend their days at the community center with other retired folks.
The holidays may be the last stronghold for intergenerational connections.
The other day, I spoke on the phone to a gentleman who is receiving home-delivered meals. I knew he was in his 90s, but he spoke well and didn’t miss a beat of our conversation.
“You sound so young!” I told him.
He chuckled. “Well, I’m 96. I wish I could have a do-over and be young again.”
I don’t think he was expressing regret. Rather, he understood the value of key moments in his life. Perhaps he wished he could go back and experience those moments more fully.
That I think is why young people and older people get along so well. They’re both focused on experiencing the present.
There’s a lesson for those of us in the middle who are planning family get-togethers. Beyond the dinner, decorations, and travel logistics, there is value in creating purposeful moments — with no agenda but enjoying the time.
Families should allow — and even encourage — the older and younger generations to interact, however it may happen.
For some families, that may come super easy. For others, those moments might take a bit of extra doing. However, I think there are tons of benefits for everyone.
The seniors in your family will experience the invigorating joy of youthful discovery. The benefit for kids and teenagers is insight, extra care, and familial belonging.
As a kid, the benefit for me was just being around my grandparents, even my grandfather, who I barely remember. Both of my grandfathers died before I was 6 years old.
I was very close to my grandma, who passed away 15 years ago. With her, I felt taken care of and extra loved. She was a mother but multiplied. While my mother could discipline me at any moment, that wasn’t the focus of the relationship with my grandmother.
Though I do remember her twisting a chunk of my skin when I was out of line. Even then, I never thought of it as punishment.
My grandmother was a protective older woman, full of wisdom, who made the most amazing food.
Both my grandmothers crocheted, and my homemade socks were the ones I wanted when it got cold.
My other grandmother lives in Colombia. She’s 92 now, and I think I value her insight and perspective even more than I did when I was a kid.
Grandparents aren’t the only source of that wisdom, of course. With blended families, the role of grandparent might fall to someone your kids aren’t biologically related to.
Whatever their title, older relatives offer insight into where life is going. The important thing is not to lose that exchange of wisdom and joyful moments from one generation to the next.
Let the grandparents sit at the kids’ table this year. It’ll be good for everyone.