48. Grandparents: A New Year for New Experiences, New Opportunities

995980_10151777423740827_1989866397_n This lovely sentiment was found on my Facebook page today, January 1, 2015. Having a caring family is so essential, but I have heard from many older adults that they don’t have many family members, or that family they do have can’t always be there for them. Those of us who grew up with traditional notions of “Family =  Mother, Father, Children, Dog, Cat, Picket Fence–and then living happily ever after (and, by the way, growing old gracefully)” know that those ideas are no longer a reality for most of us, nor would we want it to be the only way to live happily on this earth. 

I suggest that broadening our experiences and our expectations of our relationships can help create the supportive “family” humans need to thrive. 

  • Examples: An obvious example is the communities that are created by institutions of worship, organizations of people with common hobbies or interests, neighborhood groups, etc.
  • I have also seen individuals reach out to friends, nurturing their relationships in real-life ways, sharing tasks, meals, travel, and helping each other in ways that their biological families can’t or won’t do.
  • For those of us living in our homes but having difficulties paying the bills, sharing space with others can be life-affirming as well. This step takes a bit of planning and a willingness to make some changes, as well as a need to be willing to discuss one’s own needs, limits, and communicate on an on-going basis with those one is living with.
  • One of the best experiences I have ever had was my time as a parent in a “parent-child cooperative nursery school.” By participating with other parents and children on a regular basis, we shared responsibilities for each other’s children at school, discussed child development principles and how they inform our children’s behaviors–and ours, and made decisions together on curriculum, space, procedures. Sharing laughs and tough times, we grew to be a real family, stepping in for others  and being helped by others when needed–the best of “family.”
  • In the New Year, dare to reach out to others. Dare to try new things. And have a Happy, Healthy, New Year!


47. Let’s Talk Politics, Grandma! Grandpa!

10721355_626979274081260_844671544_nAs the November election draws near, I am reminded of the caution: “Don’t talk about politics…” unless you  want to cause trouble. But I would suggest, as did Ralph Nader, speaking at the Commonwealth Club*, July 3rd of this year, that politics is the way we govern ourselves, and we need to talk about politics if we are going to improve the way we govern ourselves. I think, as do many others of all persuasions, that we have lost the power to govern ourselves, and that power has been left in the hands of the few. But, if we are going to talk about politics to others who may not totally agree with us, there are several things that are important in order to keep the discussion positive:

  • We need to see where we agree and build on that. Then we can join together to raise awareness, take action, vote. (One organized movement, “No Labels”** can be found on the internet.) There may not be a meeting of the minds in any given discussion. But, because there are many sides to any one issue, listening to each other is often the best way to come to a better consensus or compromise.
  • People want to see changes but they don’t know how to get it done (Nader, 7/14). For example, the gap has grown hugely between the rich and others–leading to many questioning the American Dream. Citizens are sometimes ahead of our governing bodies in how they approach topics. Public sentiment is necessary, and then it is necessary to educate those who govern. Who will do that? How about grandma? grandpa? And what an example and legacy for our children and grandchildren. The Roosevelts (PBS Special by Ken Burns, September, 2014***) are a good example of integrity in public service. They were struggling against similar things that we as citizens are today. Quoting Doris Kearns Goodwin: “We were worried about the same thing at the turn of the century as we are now. I don’t think the answer is necessarily to go against the rich. America’s promise used to be, if you worked hard, you could move up the ladder. That’s less true today than it was before That’s what people should be fighting about” (AARP Conversation with Doris Kearns Goodwin, June 2014). 
  • We need to educate ourselves. I happen to love knowing what is happening beyond the 1- or 2-minute “news” flashes that TV news presents, to keep us entertained. One source (which the “right” may think is too left, and the “left” may thing is too “right”) that I respect is NPR radio, where topics are discussed more thoroughly, where discussions are among people who are informed but may disagree with each other, bringing out ideas they think are important. I’ve heard information that sheds light on what is happening beyond the headlines. 
  • Too many people take the easy way out–something is all bad or all good. It takes effort to get beyond this approach and find out what the issues are (Just last week, someone said to me, “We have to get rid of Obama. He’s the cause of all our problems.” I asked him how getting rid of Obama would change things. He said, “He’s raised the national debt.” I had just seen detailed charts of the national debt from the George W. Bush years, and it is lower now–so I said so. He said, yes, he gave up on the Republicans, too. It was an odd encounter, but no one came away bruised. Maybe it was a waste of time–maybe not.)
  • Don’t be shy to urge people to get involved and vote. This is all of our country, and everyone should have a voice.

Graphic: http://www.technologyrocksseriously.com/2012/01/before-you-speak-think-again.html?m=1#.VDJsjyldW7P









46. Grandparent advice on choosing a kindergarten

VS, Oregon, writes: My son and daughter-in-law will be sending their oldest son to kindergarten in September. They are considering two different schools, one is the local public school kindergarten and the other is a private school, also near their home. Neither one of them are sure which one is the best choice. The tuition for private school would be somewhat difficult, but they are willing to pay it if it would be a better choice. They’ve asked me for my opinion, as I will be picking him up and caring for him after school until one of his parents come to get him, but I’m not sure what to say.

 Dear VS, I personally sent my children to public school, and I liked the experience they each had, especially in socializing in a multicultural setting. But they also did not learn passion for learning.

I would urge the parents to visit for a period of time at each school if that is possible. (If the school doesn’t want parents there, that school would be off my list!) 

Does your grandson seem ready for kindergarten?, and if so, what type of experience? There are schools where time for learning through play is provided for, with some structure; others stress letters, numbers, and more structure–less socializing. Some questions to ask: How is your grandson doing, physically, emotionally, socially, in relationship to his peers? Can he ask new adults for help? Will he need a little more help with certain activities than his peers? Can he be a leader or follower in the group, depending on the situation? And, does the school have a policy for encouraging parents to participate in some ways? And does the school have a plan for how to ease the parent-child separation process?

This is an opportunity for the parents to clarify what’s most important to them. Most parents want their children to grow up to be productive and happy members of society, to be able to be part of the group but also independent when appropriate, but there are as many ways to achieve that as there are individuals. 

– Sometimes it comes down to the necessity of having a safe place for their child, with the hours compatible with their work schedules. Other times, parents have more flexibility. They can look at their child’s development and decide on the basis of what would be most beneficial for him at the time. 

 There are several developmental principles that apply to early childhood, including 5-yr-olds: 

  1. Separation between parent and child is a process, and when handled well, the child can grow in self confidence over time. The school should be able to help ease that process. There are ways to ease the separation if it is a difficult one (i.e., including the parent in activities, allowing the parent to stay for a day or a few days until the child gets acquainted with other children and adults, and reassuring the parent that the child will be ok when the parent leaves–even though he may cry at first.) 

– Incident: Our 5-yr-old granddaughter fussed when we (her grandparents) were taking her for the weekend by car to our city apartment. As we approached the city, we heard “Free at last!” from the back seat!!! Memorable!

2. Brain development is not complete, including the membrane between the right and left brain areas. This suggests that the child still needs to be moving about, exploring, learning naturally those skills that will later help him in his more formal learning, such as hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills, and also enjoying the experience. (Note, a child can perform some tasks better on some days that he can on others, so “performance” or “testing” may be stressful.)

— People, generally, continue to do what they do well and enjoy, and they shy away from what they find difficult. Exploration, enjoyment, build self confidence, allow for trial and error–and which carry people through many difficult times.

3. A kindergarten needs to be adequately staffed, so that when a child is having difficulty getting along with others or having a bad day, an adult can be nearby to assist him or her. Most often, children enjoy being part of a group, and the group experience helps them learn to abide by a group’s rules. But a child may need help in finding the right words to express frustration, anger, or to successfully approach other children, or to calm down after being excited–and an adult nearby can be a calming influence.

4. Threat narrows perception: A concept I learned in college, and one that I have found to be true in situations where a child or adult feels threatened or afraid. Limits/firmness with kindness help children want to conform to the classroom expectations. (On a visit with my granddaughter for lunch one day after preschool, she proceeded to show me her dolls, then yelled orders at them, using words that only an inexperienced or stressed teacher could have done. My daughter took another look at the school.) 

 5. Of the most popular characterizations of parental style, “authoritative” wins out over “authoritarian,” “permissive,” and “uninvolved.” “Authoritative parenting” are “warm, involved parents who are secure in the standards they hold for their children…provide models of caring concern as well as confident, self-controlled behavior. They exert control in ways that appear fair and reasonable to the child…and make demands that fit children’s ability to take responsibility for their own behavior…” (Berk, L.E., “Infants, Children, and Adolescents, 2005, Pearson Education, Inc.) THIS APPLIES ALSO TO TEACHING STYLES!

A thought-provoking post on kindergarten, from an experienced father: “An Open Letter to My Son’s Kindergarten Teacher (Philip Kovaks, Huffington Post,  07/25/2014 4:07 pm EDT Updated: 07/25/2014 4:59 pm EDT). While this article may be somewhat “tongue-in-cheek,” the author describes real concerns about how his child will thrive in an over-structured and not-so-creative typical kindergarten.

45. Grandparents of Gay Son: Family and “Coming Out” Issues

 LB, New York: “My son and his partner, Jim, have two beautiful children, now ages 3 and 5. We want to include Jim’s growing family more in our lives, but I’m afraid of our friends’ reactions to two gay men raising children. And I don’t know how to deal with questions that may come up about the “parentage” of the children. We are proud to be their grandparents, but can’t really say how or whether we are biologically their grandparents. My son and his partner prefer not to explain the specifics of the children’s conception.”

Thank you for your message desiring to include your son’s family into your lives. Being involved grandparents can bring so much joy and richness. I wish you well in this chapter of your lives. I would say:

 1. Supporting one’s children in raising their own children is so important. As gay or lesbian parents discover, they find they are “coming out” increasingly with each new day Continue reading

44. R-E-S-P-E-C-T

T.M., NY, writes: “My grandson, age 8, is disrespectful to his mother, my daughter. I don’t understand it, as she is patient with him. She tries to follow the Golden Rule—“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” He often announces that he doesn’t want to do what she has asked him to do, and he is rude Continue reading

43. A Grandmother’s Three Wishes: Education, Jobs, Savings

As Mother’s Day approaches, I celebrate the mothers among my family and my friends. I especially celebrate my daughters (by birth and by good fortune) who have been truly loving and supportive mothers to their children. I wish them well in their many roles and endeavors. It is with a sense of foreboding, however, that I think of my grandchildren’s generation: Scarce Continue reading

42. Memories: Making Sense of All These Years of Living and Passing On a Legacy to My Grandchildren

10003113_10152340093435460_650990473_nLately I’ve been thinking about the flood of memories that come at unexpected moments when you get to be an “older,” “elder,” or “senior.” Maybe it was the first anniversary of my father’s death at 102 this March, or maybe a function of all the years and experiences “under the belt” (along with all those desserts)!

The many chapters of my life don’t appear to have much to do with each other, each stage so different in setting, in experience. But in reality, each stage Continue reading

41. Money and Grandchildren

S.D. writes: “I’m concerned about my grandchildrens’ futures, with education so expensive and jobs so scarce. What can I do to help them see the importance of getting a good education, good work, and saving for retirement. I don’t want them to be in the position we are as we face retirement without Continue reading

40. A Valentine’s Wish

1625580_10201578542641399_1596416696_nIt seems that today’s children have no inhibitions about expressing what they don’t like and what they do want–a very different experience of self expression than that of prior generations. I have been somewhat puzzled and amazed by the way my generation–at least most everyone I’ve known–would not have dreamed of discussing our feelings with the adults around us, especially those feelings toward family members–and even our worries or goals for the future. I marvel at how strong the prohibition against this aspect of life was in the 40s, 50s.

However, Continue reading

39. Reinvention: Often A Necessity for 50+ Folks

Grandparents: Stuck in a rut? Facing a financial crisis? Not sure how to find new value, meaningful activity, in life?

I was inspired by an interview with Jane Pauley this morning (Morning Joe, MSNBC), on the occasion of her new book* on reinventing oneself through the years. Her 2013 resolution was to “say “yes” more often (and “no” less often); her 2014 resolution was to “say “yes” to new things.” Continue reading

38. My Wish: A Happy, Healthy New Year to All!

Happy New Year, Grandparents! Have you made some New Year’s resolutions? Or have you given up attempting to succeed–from past experience with resolution-making?  Don’t give up! It’s a New Year, with new possibilities! Continue reading

37. Happy Holidays, Grandparents!

1497643_10203006824717103_1943373048_nWhen you can’t purchase lots of gifts or spend a lot of time volunteering, you can find other ways, maybe smaller-in-size, but just as (or more than), meaningful to your family, friends, and even strangers! We need to remind ourselves that our caring for others does not need to be measured in dollars and cents! I’m working this list! (from Cate Cooper, courtesy of my wise and generous daughter, Amy, who re-posted this on Facebook)

36. Grandpa too strict? But what to do?

Children who are “allowed” to sass, hit, disrespect the adult, do not feel good about it and end up not feeling good about themselves.

LB, TX, writes: My husband and I do not agree about how to discipline our grandson, age 8, when he spends the weekends, while our daughter, a single parent, is working. My husband thinks our grandson should be punished and Continue reading