"She refused to be bored, chiefly because she wasn't boring." Zelda Fitzgerald

Monday, August 16, 2010

Intergenerational Parenting

You know that old saying about how it "takes a village to raise a child?" I have always had mixed feelings. I mean, really...people use it to say that somehow parenting their child is everyone's business and for real, how reasonable is that in some ways. It feels lightly invasive (everyone should be all up in my parental business) and also a bit helpless  (I can't parent my own anyhow...nobody can!). And although I really like people and I'm super borderline, on the Myers-Briggs scale I am an introvert. For folks like me, the idea of parenting posing as the ultimate group project (Man, did I hate those in school!) is a little headache producing. Blech. Can I just go off in my own little corner now?
A's Mom with my neice

Yes, except that there's something to it! Of course we all are responsible for our own families and sometimes its really great to be able to make your own choices about your children's upbringing, there is great comfort and sometimes even brilliant wisdom in the input of other people. Today, I'm vouching especially for the wisdom of the older crowd.

When I was growing up I lived most of my young childhood a ways away from my grandparents but, I was raised by a mom who really cared deeply about inter-generational interaction. My parents weren't perfect but they were spot on about some things. This is one of those things that I so appreciate.
A's uncle with Ru and my other neice

Even though my grandparents were far away, I had a fair amount of time with them (my parents made visits, phone calls from a very early age, letter writing and lots and lots of photo viewing a big priority) and also lots of great time with psuedo-grandparent types who went to our church, lived in our neighborhood or were friends of the family in some other way.

I am saddened by how much I see current society segregated by age and I am cheered by the fact that although its weird to mix the generations in a social setting, when I initiate on behalf of my children or myself, people are almost always very receptive. Yes, and I have three sets of incredibly caring, and involved grandparents, despite the fact that my children are also far away. That's a pretty lucky break to begin with. Having living grandparents is in no way a given.
A's dad, wedged in our armchair with three of his grandkids

My painting group ladies are half young moms in my own stage of life and half older generation mentor types who spend precious minutes every week talking earnestly to my children about whatever crosses their little minds and tickling my baby under his chin to watch him smile. We also rub shoulders with a couple of neighbors and there are of course several warm grandparent types at our church that wink at our boys and ruffle their hair every time we see them. Our babysitters are also both women who have raised their own little ones and are now pouring a bit of themselves into my babies.

When older folks love on my kids and "help me raise them" I am amazed at how much more I trust their opinions, enjoy their company and am warmed and encouraged by their very non-judgmental attitudes. They have done it all, come up with brilliant plans for keeping pacifiers in and lost their minds during the teething phase and told kids things no mother should ever speak out loud. Such is life. And their children have all grown up, they have a little distance on the all consuming brain-sucking child rearing bit and are able to chuckle about many of the catastrophes they survived. Oh how I love that!
Our wonderful neighbor, reading with Ru after we had her over to dinner
I love the old fashioned tips older folks have, the way they help my little ones learn to speak quietly, move gently and listen more carefully, I love that they think my no-t.v. way of life is fabulous, I love the way the very positive and strengthening attitude they have about even the childhood conundrums they haven't got any solutions for, I love how they encourage my children to be respectful and mannerly, I love that they really appreciate a kid just being a kid, I love that they don't mind sticky fingers, that they know babytalk and big-boy elitism and can move smoothly between them and I love that they're available wherever I'll end up. My own parents and A's are a special form of precious but, folks of their generation and beyond are a never to be overlooked bonus. There are few other things I want for my children relationally  than an inter-generational ease, and a genuine desire to connect to and understand people of varying ages. Try it out, you might find it as buoying as I do.

I dare you to adopt a few grandmas!


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