Old and young.
February 18, 2011

A couple months ago, an elderly neighbor passed away.  When she died, I was filled with remorse.  I was sorry for her family and friends, of course.  They lost a beautiful soul.  But I especially mourned the loss of the relationship she had forged with Charlotte.  I regretted that the two of them had not had more time together, because oh, how they made each other happy.

It makes me smile to think about it even now.

Over the past several weeks, I have suddenly realized that without this neighbor, my daughter has very few people in her life who are older than my parents.  I don’t know how I missed it before, but in our society, child-rearing seems to be relegated to only people of child-bearing age.  I rarely see grandparents at toddler story-times or near the park jungle gym.  I never hear someone say yeah, they’ve got this great nanny, she’s an old coot but she sure knows her way around the finger-paints.

It’s a shame, really.

I personally believe that Charlotte will benefit from interacting with a variety of people.  How can she celebrate humanity without appreciating that what makes us different – race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, body type, AGE – makes us wonderful?

Lately my husband and I have been brainstorming.  I guess it’s possible that every single person over sixty wants nothing to do with small children…but I doubt it.  I cannot imagine that the desire to nurture and the ability to meaningfully contribute to a child’s life switches off as soon as a certain number of candles adorn a birthday cake.  I want Charlotte to respect and appreciate people of all ages, be they twenty or one-hundred, have they youth or have they dentures.  And the only way she’ll reach that point is if she has opportunities to interact with individuals of all ages.

The more I think about it, the more I believe that when our society began removing the elderly from the child-rearing community, we did our children and ourselves a grave disservice.

The only question now is: how do we rectify this problem?  How do we find older individuals with whom we can forge meaningful friendships?  How do we explain to our daughter as she gets older that we made this effort so that she will value people of all ages and recognize that individuals of all ages are important?


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  1. By Gracia Fraile Donet on February 18, 2011

    I was raised spending lots of time with not only my grandparents but also my great-grandma, 79 years older than me. She did most of the storytelling of my childhood, and I have very fond memories of that time. I believe it has also helped me to forge an interest and care towards the elderly. I feel too that many times they are “forgotten” and not really appreciated in my society. You could never believe how interesting my cousin’s great-grandma is. She’s 101 years old, and can tell -with great detail- the most interesting stories and lessons learnt in her life.

    These may not be useful examples, or they may not be directly applicable to you, but they may inspire you or others to find ways to reconnect the elderly with children.

    A few years ago I participated in a program where college students were paired with an elderly person and had to write a story from their life. I got to meet an amazing woman who is to this day a friend and an inspiration to me.

    There’s also a program over here that allows students who can’t afford housing while they’re studying to live in an elderly person’s home in exchange for keeping them company.

    Also, when I was 14 I joined an association that paired teenagers with people from retirement homes etc. Once a week we’d take them for a walk, or shopping, or to a doctor’s appointment so they didn’t have to go on their own. For some of them it was the only time they’d leave the house.

  2. By on February 18, 2011

    Growing up, my family was very active in my church.  Church was a wonderful place to have cross generational interaction.  There was a Wed. evening children’s program (happily named, “Smile”) that included dinner.  For dinner, the kids were paired with “table parents” which were some of the older folks in the church.  Even as my sister and I grew older our table parents made an effort to stay interested in our lives.  Looking back, I realize what an amazing value those relationships were.  I still tresure them deeply (and mourned as an adult when my table parents passed away).  I think an intentional church family like that can really keep the notion you are highlighting alive.

    However, my husband and I are intentionally not participating in organized religion at this time and I have had some of the same struggles you’ve mentioned for my own son.

  3. By on February 18, 2011

    My husband is a Wellness Director at a fitness facility within a retirement community. Our 4 children have grown up visiting older adults. They attend exercise classes with them, they enjoy lunch and special occassions with them. Retirement communities are a great way to introduce kids to older adults. Many older adults live in these communities and rarely get visitors. Stop into a local retirement community and talk to the staff about visiting. Most communities have special gathering times at which they would love to have a child visit.
    I agree with you that our children are missing out by not having older adults in their life - they have so much to offer.

  4. By Momiss on February 18, 2011

    You go, girl!  Child care centers should be situated next to old people’s homes, with nice yards and some dogs in between.  We have gotten so far away from the basics in this world today. :( Way to get real.

  5. By Lindsay on February 18, 2011

    I was lucky enough to grow up with my grandmother as one of my best friends as well as my great-grandfather. My grandmother passed away in 2009 at the age of 90 and my great-grandfather passed away in 2005 at the age of 97. The two of them both (maternal grandma, paternal great-grandpa) spent my childhood in swimming pools, at recitals, playing all kinds of silly games with me. I used to beg my mom “please let me sleep at my grandma’s house!“ when the other kids in the neighborhood were having a sleepover. My grandma was so full of fun! And when my great-grandpa took me to his community’s Bingo games?! So much fun! My sister is 11 years younger than I am so my grandmother had developed Alzheimer’s and my great-grandfather became ill during her childhood. Still, we used to always visit my grandmother in her assisted living facility and OH, how the elderly LOVED to play with my baby sister. She loved them, too! She’d go to painting, arts and crafts, singing and showtimes with them. They’d all fight over who got to play with her or sit with her or paint with her and it always so, so much fun. My little sister loved it as much as they did!

    I was wondering this same thing, as my baby-to-be (I’m 5 months along) will have my parents who are 52 and 53 years old—but no one “elderly.“ My husband does have a living grandmother, but she is very, very ill and at this time we’re not even sure if she will be here to see when our baby arrives. :(

  6. By on February 18, 2011

    I’m actually constantly surprised where I live at the number of grandparents at storytimes and children’s museums.

    I’m fortunate enough to live seconds from MY grandmother - jude’s GREAT grandmother and just a few more steps away from his GREAT, GREAT grandmother! Jude is lucky enough to send atleast one day a week with his G G-mom and is unfortunate enough to have lost his G G-pop not too lo g ago whom he was very Close to and also saw regularly.

    If you’re really looking for ways to get your daughter around older people more regularly, volunteer at a nursing home or retirement center. Jude’s GG G-mom lives in one and all the old people swoon when we walk in the door. I think it’s safe to safe that they undoubtedly want to be around small children, especially when their own don’t come around as often as they’d like.

    Or, you could move to florida. I hear they have plenty down there.

  7. By on February 18, 2011

    I so wholeheartedly agree with this!  It seems like in most societies around the world, the various generations are not nearly so segregated as they are in ours.  I think everyone benefits when the older generation is involved directly in child care.

  8. By Bethany on February 18, 2011

    My husbands grandfather is in an alzheimers care unit. We bring Olivia to see him very frequently because we have found that not only Pops (as we call him) interacts with Olivia so well…but so do the other patients. & Olivia loves all of the attention ;)

  9. By Sarah on February 18, 2011

    We were raised in the same home as our grandparents and down the street from my great granparents. I knew all my great aunts and uncles. This gave me a much better perspective of the value of a person’s age than many of my friends. I am trying to do the same with my kids. We live close to both sets of grands and many great aunts and uncles and see them frequently. THey make the best babysitters! One way might be to call a retirement home and ask if they have any people who don’t have family visit very ofthen. You all could “adopt” a great grandparent!

  10. By Cynthia Krajcarski on February 18, 2011

    You guys could start volunteering at a senior’s home, couldn’t you? Then you could teach Charlotte about giving her time freely and make some adoptive grandparent relationships.

    There is not a soul over 60 who doesn’t love Isla, I’m sure everyone will love Charlotte too.

    We’re pretty lucky, I’ve still got 3 of my grandparents with me… So Isla has 4 grandparents and 3 great-grandparents. Lucky girl.

  11. By Sarah Christensen on February 18, 2011

    Thanks for the suggestions, guys.  We’ve been leaning toward visiting retirement homes, so it’s nice to see that idea reinforced by others.  And Gracia, wow!  What awesome programs!  Charlotte’s not quite old enough for things like that yet, but I’m definitely going to file those ideas at the back of my head.  they seem like genuinely wonderful situations that benefit both the young and the old.

  12. By Sarah Christensen on February 18, 2011

    Erin - I completely agree.  We are a secular family and this is the only thing that I feel we really miss out on in a religious community: the ability to easily foster intergenerational relationships.

  13. By Jaclyn on February 18, 2011

    What an interesting thought. And what a sad realization! Short of visiting nursing homes, I wouldn’t at all know how to foster these kinds of relationships. Charlotte is lucky to have parents who recognize the value she can gain from such relationships.

  14. By Sarah@Crazy Love Gamble-Style on February 18, 2011

    We spend a lot of time at my grandfather’s retirement center.  Ava is the light of so many residents lives.  Walking through there we are stopped by dozens of people who have come to adore her.  They only just met little Norah and the are over the moon for her, but who doesn’t like a tiny newborn to oooh and aaah over??

    You would be doing not just Charlotte a favor by pursuing this but many elderly people’s lives could be forever changed as well.

  15. By brenda upton on February 18, 2011

    I have a 7 month old baby girl and my grandfather is 90 this year.  About once a week we go to the mall early in the morning to hang out with him, his “girlfriend” and all his mall-walker friends.  They LOVE having us there and my daughter just adores hanging out with them.  It’s before any stores are open and we just sit at a table in the food court and chat.  It’s such a great time for Bailey (my daughter) and the “old folks” light up when we walk in the door:)
    Maybe check out your local mall, I’m sure there are a few folks that would love to meet Charlotte!

  16. By on February 18, 2011

    My mom works at Sunrise Senior Living.  She said her residents LOVE when kids come to visit.  They are all so nice and genuinely love to play with the kids.  I highly suggest finding a senior living home near you.  Call ahead to make sure you can and to find out the best times but it’s great.  And if you go on a regular basis you can definitely forge long lasting, great relationships.

  17. By on February 18, 2011

    I have a 15 month old and too wanted her to forge a relationship with an elder.  Her grandparents are all far away and don’t see her very often.  So I recently joined a nonprofit called Elderfriends which is going to pair me with an elder who is looking for a friend to visit a few times a month.  I can’t wait to meet my new friend and let my daughter find a new elder to learn from.

  18. By on February 18, 2011

    I would check in your area if there is an Office on Aging. We have a very large one here which I volunteer at. They have many opportunities of volunteer work like fixing things around their house, working on bills, helping them organize, taking them to dr appointments, but many just want someone to sit with them and keep them company. I take my littlest ones with me usually and the elderly AND the little ones both love the opportunity and it also helps out the community. Its a win win situation all around.

  19. By on February 18, 2011

    I’ve heard of programs that match older people with children as sort of surrogate grandparents.

    Our daughter spends a lot of time with people in their 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s because of our church. They all love her and she goes willingly to their laps.

    Because we’re also part of an immigrant community (I’m second generation), she gets exposed to so many wonderful “old country” songs and stories from her contacts with these amazing seniors!

  20. By on February 18, 2011

    There are so many eldery people living in nursing/retirement homes who don’t have family to visit them.  I’m sure they would enjoy the heck out of a visit with Charlotte, and she probably would, too.  Bring the puppy, too, if they’ll let you.  Stroking a pet is great therapy.

  21. By on February 18, 2011

    This makes me very sad because I just realised that, when I have a child, he or she won’t know his/her great grandparents like I did.
    My grandfather is mentally gone (mini strokes took his brain), my grandmother has Alzheimers. Oma may live for another 10 or 15 years, she’s so fit, but she lives in Holland.
    Thankfully, my oldest nephew is old enough he’ll have at least a shadow of a memory of his great grand-parents. ( I was even able to get a picture of my Opa, in Holland, holding a photo of my nephew before Opa died. One day I’ll let my nephew have it when he can understand what it means)
    I will be very happy, though, to have my child/children know their grandparents. My parents are awesome grandparents. I just hope they’re not worn out by the time my kiddies come along!

    And, now I’ll think about visiting the old-folks home in town with my future children.

  22. By on February 18, 2011

    I don’t have any answers for this, but I did want to share something:  The baby home my daughter lived in for the first 8 months of her life (in China) was connected to…..yep…..an “old folks” home. They strongly believed in the connections between the very young and the very old. I love it. We should do the very same thing in this country as well.

    Elizabeth

  23. By Tracy Roberts on February 18, 2011

    I often think about finding a retirement home and volunteering there with E regularly.

    You should check out the book:
    Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge by one of my favorite authors of ALL TIME…
    http://www.amazon.com/Wilfrid-McDonald-Partridge-Television-Storytime/dp/091629126X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1298090331&sr=8-1

    YOU WILL LOVE IT~ promise.

  24. By on February 18, 2011

    You simply couldn’t be any more correct!! It’s so sad when children grow up without being around elderly folks. I think it stunts their emotional growth in a way. I’ve seen it so many times….so find a nursing home or retirement (assisted-living) facility and go visit one day. Bet you anything it will open up a whole new world to you both.

  25. By on February 19, 2011

    When I was a baby, my mom would take me to eat lunch every week at the senior center/ assisted living facility. We knew/ know most of the people there, and they were, and still are always happy to see kids and babies!

  26. By Alison @ cluck and tweet on February 20, 2011

    When we had our daughter my mother-in-law, who was not-quite-70 informed us that we needed to find a little old lady to help us with her.  We reminded her that SHE was the little old lady.  What I’ve often observed is that what used to be considered “old” when I was a kid, is now a group of very active seniors who don’t have as much time to spend with young kids.  Not that she isn’t a great grandmother, she is, it’s just that she’s so busy. :)

  27. By MommyNamedApril on February 21, 2011

    i’m sure it’s already been suggested, but what about doing some volunteering at a local retirement home where you can bring her along?

  28. By kim on March 09, 2011

    there are “therapy dog” programs where you can take your dog to assited livings or other places to visit with folks.  they only need basic training to be certified.  it’s loads of fun :)


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