Connecting generations isn't an option — it's a must
As often is the case when I'm hunkered away behind my computer screen for work, my young child is basking in the glory of being our family's only grandson. With that status comes much pomp and circumstance; an overkill at times, but I love to witness it nonetheless.
During the school year, on more occasions than not, he is joyfully cared for by either his maternal grandmother whom he refers to as Bachan (a nod to our Okinawan heritage) or his paternal grandfather, simply known to us all as Grandpa.
At the end of a workday, when it comes time to wrangle my little guy, I have become accustomed to one thing – to these loving grandparents, no one (and I do mean no one) is more important, relevant, or cherished than that boy.
I love the way Grandpa's crystal blue eyes glisten when he tells me about their afternoon at the park or when he says, over and over, what a “special kid we've got there.” And Bachan, how she dotes on her little prince, making sure he gets to visit with all her neighbors, mostly elderly ladies who congregate near her front porch and blissfully watch my son while he shows off for them time and again. “I have a lot of grandmas,” he always states after each visit.
The love that is offered between them is a blessing of its own, but the soul-quenching experience of what each is sharing with one another – the gift only capable between a child and an elder – is what I truly find priceless and quite remarkable.
“He plants trees to benefit another generation.” -Caecilius Statius, Roman poet
On any given day, when you walk through the doors of Mt. Baker Care Center, a family-owned and operated skilled nursing facility in Bellingham, WA, you are greeted with a steady hum of laughter and play. It's on the ground level of this vibrant community where children gather, bringing with them a yearning to learn, explore, and absorb the elements that surround them.
What makes these children so lucky is that what surrounds them are not only members of our nation's greatest generation, but a wishing well of untapped history, knowledge, and love.
Generations Early Learning & Family Center first opened its doors at Mt. Baker Care Center nearly four years ago. Since then, lives have changed; the spirit of these little humans have enveloped that of this nursing home, its residents, and staff members.
As I sit to write this article, I'm doing so with a full heart having just spent a portion of my afternoon experiencing “July Birthday Art with 4s” where crayons, coloring pages, and excited faces of all ages filled the main activity room for a coloring exercise.
In addition to the surplus of cuteness that filled the room, the feeling that left me almost euphoric was the joy and nostalgia that filled the eyes of the elders as they watched intently as each child concentrated on their works of art. One resident, Phyllis, lean in close to examine her little friend's work, unaware that the corners of her mouth were gently pulling upwards; a peaceful smile on her beautiful face, lost in the moment with her new friend.
I walked toward Phyllis and our eyes met. It was left unsaid that we were both relishing in the moment with these children. I leaned down, put my hand on her shoulder, and told her how lovely her smile was and that it had brightened the room. She took my face into her frail hands and said with compassion in her voice, “thank you, child.” Her little friend looked up from his masterpiece to listen in on our conversation, giving us a soft smile that melted our hearts even further, and in that moment this one exercise of art had impacted three generations.
Whereby this day, this experience, had moved me, imagine how wonderful it must feel to be a resident of this progressive nursing home and be presented with this type of love and these kinds of connections every day.
“You are never too young to teach, and you are never too old to learn.” -Les Brown, motivational speaker & author
According to studies on inter-generational relationships, the benefits surrounding this sort of engagement are endless for both the elderly and their younger counterparts. Some of the well-documented benefits include:
- Elderly feel less isolation and loneliness
- Psychological and physical well-being for elders who regularly interact with children
- Promotes participation, connection, and companionship among elders
- Increased physical exercise which boosts cognitive, mental, and physical health
- Children gain a valuable perception of aging, and the elderly, learning through the experiences of their elder friendships
- Young people can assist elderly with their chores and errands which helps elder individuals maintain their independence while building responsibility among the young
My earlier example showcased just how occasional inter-generational participation can bring variety, stimulation, and joy to an individual. Long-term impacts are made, though, when interaction is consistent and more frequent between generations. It is then when positive attitudes, self-esteem, and self-confidence are fostered.
We're in an age where the young don't address the old, and the old generally don't care to address the young. Because today's culture has segregated generations, there is a gap between our children and our grandparents that's impacting the whole of American society.
Mountains of knowledge and history are lost when we don't connect with our elders. They are a treasure trove of wisdom; a gateway to the past that goes beyond what any history or ethics book could teach us.
Can you imagine the paradigm shift we, as caregivers, could make if we all helped bridge that generational gap by incorporating inter-generational programs within our care plans?
Such a simple concept, but one that can (without being over-dramatic) change the course of our society. Our little ones are children today, but they will be our caregivers tomorrow. It would behoove us to provide some early understanding and perspective on the importance of respecting our elders as it was engrained into me as a child.
Connecting generations is not an option — it's a must.
Tina L. Kies is the founder of Chikara PR, a comprehensive public relations and content marketing agency. A nationally recognized and award-winning communicator, she has 20 years of professional industry experience, including five in the healthcare sector. For more information, visit chikarapr.com.