I couldn’t have raised my kids, worked and gone to school as a single mom for the period of time I did, without the help of my parents. I’d work during the week, their grandparents would come get them every other Friday afternoon from daycare or school, I’d have classes that Friday and Saturday, pick them up Sunday, and the week would begin again. It was a brutal schedule for several years, but one that promised a better life for us as a family. I really had no idea how much better that life would be. To my surprise, not because of that schedule, though. Because of the time spent with their grandparents.
A few years ago, our middle daughter said, “Papaw trusts me more than you with mechanical devices. Give me the keys.” “What in the world are you talking about? He does not; and I will not.” I said. She and her sister then went into story after story of times when they drove tractors and 4 wheelers on those weekends in the country with my parents. I was stunned. My dad wouldn’t even let me use his riding mower, let alone drive his truck. Granted, I knocked a boat nearly out of the garage with it once, but that was minor…to me. I used to marvel at how much energy and patience my parents had with my children. It never seemed to run out. They’d make cookies, have tea parties, garden, and sew, fish, play sports – anything the girls asked. On and on it went!
It doesn’t have to be someone biologically related or in a grandparent role to invest in someone younger. The benefits go both ways. Statistically, teens with positive role models have a greater sense of self-esteem, perform better academically, show better sportsmanship, avoid drug and alcohol abuse, and have better anger management skills, and that’s just the abbreviated list! Certainly for the senior, they’ll gain a renewed sense of purpose when they have someone to share their experiences and knowledge with. Seniors have already developed those critical thinking skills, children and teens may learn from them some problem-solving techniques that they may have otherwise not learned for many years to come. Sometimes it is easier for a child or teen to discuss difficult topics with a responsible adult to avoid upsetting a parent. We joke about it, too, but how many of us have handed our electronic devices to the younger folks and asked them to show us how to make it do something or we have asked one of our children’s friends to tell us what some new lingo we heard meant? We need each other to navigate this life.
There are volunteer and mentoring programs within the school systems, churches, volunteer outreach programs, many senior volunteer programs are within your community as well. You can contact your local volunteer organizations to see what all is out there for you to fit your specific goals.
While my kids were making cookies, they were learning about fractions and why following directions is important when they were doubling or dividing a recipe. They learned about etiquette at their tea parties, began appreciating nature and learning to watch seasonal patterns; learned to preserve through canning and freezing those produce and they did develop a sense of pride when they literally saw the fruits of their labor while they were gardening; they used algebra (yes, you do use it outside a classroom) when they had to figure out how much material went into a pattern to make a pillow; and they learned that when someone makes you something, say “thank you,” and appreciate the time that was spent making it; and they saw that something gave it’s life so they could eat when they went fishing. When their grandfather played sports with them, I’m sure they were amazed that he could run, throw, and catch a ball, but what they were really learning is that age doesn’t mean we break down and stop playing or laughing at ourselves. In truth, the most valuable thing they learned was that their grandparents invested time in them. Loving people who chose to have time to hear about their days, and who shared their own wisdom with them. You see, as a parent, I was so busy raising my children – keeping them alive and making sure they got the education I knew was crucial, all while I was working to keep the roof over mine and their heads – just making sure all the balls stayed in the air; but my parents had already accomplished all that.
I recently watched an elderly man picking up his grandson from the bus stop. The little boy was so happy to see him that he ran as fast as his tiny legs would go to the open arms of the gentleman! The gentleman, who I assumed at the time was his grandfather, hugged him tightly, and they walked off together. The man just slowly enough that the young boy didn’t have to run to keep up while the two held hands. I remember thinking that I’d always been in such a hurry with my girls, but this little boy and the older gentleman were in perfectly designed synchronized step.
Our seniors have a treasure trove of time to offer our children in which they can invest in their spirit. We’ve only but to let them.