Parenting: Helping grandparents share their story

November 18, 2010

I was concerned that the children might be bored by the life stories of my elderly parents, or that Mom and Dad might go on too long. It turns out my concerns were unfounded. Mom showed the kids some photos of what cars, televisions, and other household items looked like when she was younger and spoke to them about my parents' travels around the world. My dad spoke about some of his Army experiences during World War II. The kids were an interested and receptive audience. Even Jason, who stayed in the class, said he heard stories from his grandparents that even he, after 18 years, hadn't heard before. At the end of the class, after my parents had left, their teacher had the students write Thank You notes to my parents, outlining what they had learned and remembered from the presentation.

When I spoke to my mom last night on the phone, she was thrilled to have taken part in the presentation. She said the children were adorable and well behaved and had asked great questions. My parents were so happy to have an audience and it gives them hope to see even young children enthusiastically learning about their history and religion. Mrs. Brenda Schwartz, the teacher, did what in Judaism call a "mitzvah" or good deed by bringing together these different generations for a sharing session.

I wish now that I had thought ahead and had Jason videotape my parents' talk. Our older relatives have so much to share, but often, in our busy lives, we don't stop to listen to their stories or their insights. As the holiday season approaches, many of us will be spending some time with older relatives. As parents, many of us are in the so-called "sandwich generation" with responsibilities for both our parents and or children, which can be a burden. But the holidays give us a chance to make the sandwich truly nourishing. The Legacy Project has some great ideas on ways to have grandparents share stories with their grandchildren. The suggestions are meant for classroom use, but are easily adaptable to using around the dining room table after the last of the pumpkin pie has been consumed. There's even a downloadable form of "Questions to Ask a Grandparent," which offers an outline or format to get Grandma and Grandpa to start talking.

Our kids are adept at sharing information about themselves on Facebook and YouTube. Many grandparents aren't on top of this technology. But encouraging our kids to help their grandparents record and share their personal histories can be rewarding and enlightening for both the young and old. And when the holidays come around and the grandparents are no longer at the table, chronicles we make this year could end up being the most valuable gifts of the year.

Here are some more resources for helping Grandparents share their stories:

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