Bridging The Generation Gap: Improving Family Relationships

By Shyamola Khanna

In this age of nuclear families, statistics reveal that despite the burgeoning population, older people tend to be lonely and isolated. It is understandable in families where youngsters have moved far away to build their own lives – however, when three family generations live in the same city, sometimes even in the same home, it does leave a question mark.

Yes, the younger generation tends to have taxing schedules. Many work long hours and even have health issues and other sources of stress. Their parents do not agree with their new values, and so they move out as soon as possible. Lately, a new level of job insecurity has kicked in, and marriage and kids add to the distance from the older generations.

A common refrain – “I love my folks, but have no time to spend with them.” Not surprisingly, older people feel the youngsters do not care anymore – now that they have their education and their jobs, they do not want the added burden of looking after parents.

The result? Terse or non-existent communication, and little or no time spent together. They would like to see more of the grandchildren, but fear rejection. A common refrain – “We are a burden. They do not want us to interfere in their lives anymore. We have been put out to pasture!”

Kids, who form the third arm of this triangle, grow up with mostly absent fathers and mothers, but plenty of material goods. With no appropriate values, they do not know how to deal with many social situations.

A case in point: Teen muggings and killings being reported lately from super-affluent Gurgaon, outside Delhi. With busy, working parents, teens are growing up without a sense of connection or good values. We need to bridge the gap between these three generations.

A Case Study

A family lives in up-market Jorbagh, South Delhi. The grandparents with their only daughter, son-in-law and two grandsons. I have watched them from close quarters – communication flows between the three generations with no apparent barriers at all. There may be occasional lacunae, but they are not big enough to cause any major breakdowns.

The grandsons return from school and seek out the 75-year-old grandmother for a snack or a drink. The elder boy comes home alone on the school bus, and the 82-year-old grandfather picks up the youngest.

Some time ago, the mother, grandmother and the younger boy went shopping. The elder lady slowed them down, causing the young boy to comment, “Why do you bring Granny? She cannot walk.” The grandmother took no offence. Like any grandparent, she dotes on the little ones and holds no grudges about ‘ill mannered kids’.

The home-bound mother tackles all parenting and discipline issues and the grandparents do not interfere, unless the situation gets out of hand or the mother is not at home. The grandparents are a regular fixtures in the house, unlike the parents.

This gives the kids a great sense of security – a major plus in Delhi today. Hindi lessons and bedtime stories are the grandmother’s department. The mother helps both the boys with their homework and other assignments.

Foul language and rude behavior with the servants are unthinkable. The little chap does throw an occasional tantrum, but never in public. There are ground rules for shopping, too – the boys know that they can ask for any one thing. The mother is very strict on that.

The restriction works like magic. On food, they are allowed pizzas or burgers once a week and have to eat their regular home-cooked meals on other days. The vegetarian restrictions have been lifted for the growing boys, and occasionally they send out for kebabs and tandoori chicken.


Your children need the sense of connection and values that grandparents can give them

Bridging The Gap

In the above case, there is discernible gap, since they all share mealtimes and spend quality time together. The elders go out of their way to do things with the little ones, and the kids reciprocate.

However, this seems to be the exceptional, rather than the rule, today. Grandparents do not tend to make their grandchildren feel at home anymore. Nothing special is made for them, and there are no attempts to talk to them at their level.

During visits to grandparents, kids are usually left on their own to watch TV or do anything else that keeps them out of the way. They get an occasional toy on festival days.

How are kids expected to react? When young ones are coming over, elders should plan to make it a special occasion for them – maybe a visit to the cinema with a pizza treat afterwards, or a trip to the fun fair.

The planning of such occasions should not be left to grandparents alone – one of the parents should supervise such a trip so that it becomes a memorable one for all concerned. Having kids and grandparents discuss the day’s events afterward is an excellent way to further bridging the divide.

Today’s elders need to learn to laugh at their grandchild’s innocent stories and generally come down to their level. No, it’s not easy to make conversation with a bright little six-year-old, but the effort can make a huge difference. The kids should want to come back for more and not see such visits as dreary rituals.

Catalysing Harmony

Today, the three generations need to re-learn the fine art of working in unison to make family time enjoyable for everyone. Everyone should contribute in some way, and or the other and no one should be left out. The little ones should be given responsibility too.

For a family dinner, ask the little girl to lay the table and bringing the grandparents to it at dinnertime. The boys can arrange the seats after counting the number of heads, and also make sure there are enough plates and glasses available. The elders can bring some favorite sweets or give the kids inexpensive gifts.

The idea is to involve everyone at cross-generation togetherness events. If everyone involved puts effort into such times, the gap between the generations will begin to narrow again. Togetherness time and open, non-judgmental communication are the key.

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Family Reunion Website

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