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The Wisdom of Grandparents – Part 1

Birth2Work Co-founder, mother, grandmother

The Way We Never Were

According to author Stephanie Coontz, in her book The Way We Never Were, families have always been shaped by the realities of their times. For example, 1950’s style single-earner households for which nostalgia was so often expressed—a working father, an attentive homemaking mother, charming children, and doting grandparents—was mythologized far past reality by television of the era.

A decade in which conformity became essential, in the workplace and society at large, it led directly to the explosion of individualism and family turmoil that rocked the 1960s and still shapes our world today.

This means that the ideals we are beating ourselves up over today were short-lived models from the last 50 years. This is where existing resources for parents and grandparents and families on what to do and how to live, as a whole, failed the American culture.

Families led by parents with strong values and a clear vision and pathway for the success of their children often changed in favor of following a hypermedia diet where electronic devices became more trusted than adults for truth and support.

The cast of “Father Knows Best” – 1954

The Way Some of Us are Now

Today, most of what passes as help for families on how to live a good life and shape the lives of those around them, is a cop out. Not too long ago, my husband and I were sitting on a tram headed from a Los Angeles airport parking lot to our terminal to catch a plane. It was over the holidays so I struck up a short conversation with a couple, about our age, sitting across from us. We had a quick exchange about what the woman was carrying—some boxes with high-end electronics in them.

“Wow,” I said. “That’s an amazing array of what must be Christmas presents?” 

“Indeed,” she said. “They are for our grandchildren who live in a very expensive part of Los Angeles.”    

“Is that what is socially required?” I asked, with a bit of a grin on my face. 

“Oh gosh, yes,” she replied quickly, with no grin. “They would be shunned if they didn’t have the latest cell phones and iPads.”   She then added, “Oh, I’m sorry. Maybe you don’t have grandkids, or you aren’t in that category of people. In our circle of friends it is our responsibility as grandparents to buy these things for them.” 

The conversation continued for a couple of minutes before the tram came to a halt. The couple started to get off, but the woman turned to me and said, “Certainly is a different world than when we were growing up, huh?” 

I was speechless. It was clear we had different values and different ideas about what our role and responsibilities as grandparents are to our families. 

Experiences Over Things: The Mountain Guide Approach

Over the 40 years I have been working on defining functional family life, I am absolutely certain of one thing. I have never found a solution to a problem facing any child that had a better outcome than a positive life experience—something as small as a smile or a hug can change their world. Doing things FOR our grandchildren has the same limited value as it did when we did things FOR our own children.

A child’s strength and certainty, basically their self-esteem, is derived from what he knows for himself. 

I see grandparents as Mountain Guides. We have seen life, its blessings, and its challenges from our parents and our own life. Through our guidance of our children, and now their children, we can help our grandchildren see the world through our eyes and perspective. There is no doubt their world is very different, but our wisdom matters.

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