A woman I know from my library book club, approached me last month with a question: How do old people remain relevant to their families? She gave me two very painful experiences about flying to see her son and his wife and kids and feeling ignored. Just the description “flying to” told me a significant detail. Distance makes a relevant connection with growing children or aging adult children difficult. Not impossible, but difficult and very difficult for one of any depth.
The word relevant indicates a logical and important connection. Numerous items or verbiage or general history that is part of our old age experience has no relevance to anyone 15 years younger….how could we stay relevant to every age group? Instead of looking at substance for relevance, perhaps we should look at emotions. Remaining important and timely to a family would come from the value system of the group or society and what traditions exist about the value and treatment of elders. Where did those beliefs come from and how do you instill a system that honors every age? And, what actions does that involve? (do not start thinking that you are going to get thank you notes from any family member for anything, buck up the world changed!)
Because of the upheaval of families moving from small towns to cities or the towns turning into burbs and the travel of younger generations to out-of-state colleges and jobs, many of us separated from our original tribe. When my Mom was in Alzheimer’s care there were dozens of people in the facility that never saw a family member. They were paid for, or had Medicaid, but that was the extent of the connection to a larger group that had once loved them. There was a statistic I heard that the average length of time for a person in a nursing home is 2.5 years…..if I were a betting women I would say that is way too low. Or, maybe it just seems longer because of the circumstances.
So, back to being a person who is connected and important to your family. That seems to be a job for you to take on, not to expect a 21st century child to act as if it is back in the “Old Days”. Ask open-ended questions and make it a grandma rule that I DON’T KNOW is not an answer. But be gentle and tell them that since talking time is always limited between you all, it is important for you to learn as much about how they are growing up as possible–especially if you at not as blessed as I am and get to see my grands and greats frequently.
Another observation is to talk with your contemporaries about their families and any nieces or god children or children who are important to them. Gain insight into the younger generation’s struggles and culture and even the slang that is “sick”. Be able to look at the bigger world picture of youth.
In our groups of friends and clubs we can stay relevant because of a general age and set of expectations. But, that is where the familiar ends. It is another of your challenges as you age to stay connected with texts and pictures and jokes and lunches and snail mail and face time and cookies delivered by UPS. Respecting their time, while reminding them that you love them can be done.
Extra ordinary elders live fully and with meaning and deliberation for as long as the energy and intention continues. Please commit to being extraordinary in 2017–the world still needs us for truth and guidance and patience and to teach gratitude and joy.
May you hold peace and compassion in your heart–and your head