It’s a bit obvious to say I have a unique family dynamic because, of course, no family is the same. But the most unique thing about my particular family, is that I have four, living grandparents and two, living step grandparents. Four of the six are featured in my wedding procession above (from L to R: my maternal grandmother, studly cousin Jay, paternal mother, paternal grandfather and my paternal grandfather’s wife). I have a close, personal relationship with each of them, but I suddenly realized, I am STILL taking them for granted.
Our grandparents are god damn national treasures. They have lived through times that we cannot travel back to, they have stories that they want to share, legacies they want to leave behind, but too often, as twentysomethings weare so consumed with building our OWN lives, that we fail to ask about theirs and often live to regret it.
In “How to Gain Adult Respect”, I touched upon our responsibility as rookie adults to initiate and establish a new relationship with our elders. I went over steps you can take to help them to see you as an adult, but what I left out was the flipside of that coin. Part of establishing a NEW relationship with your elders (specifically, your grandparent(s)) is recognizing that your conversations shouldn’t revolve exclusively around YOU!
Just because they are old does not mean they don’t have a life.
Once you wake up to this fact, it becomes easier to wonder and ask about questions you may NEVER get the chance to voice again. I have regrets about not opening the door to the history of my awe-inspiring great grandfather, who passed away last year at the ripe age of 101. I am NOT going to let that same opportunity escape me with the loved ones I still have left.
Here are 3 action steps you can take to soak up your grandparents in a deep, rare, and more meaningful way:
1. DIY StoryCorps. StoryCorps is a revolutionary company with the mission of recording and preserving the stories of lives, the way they wish it to be remembered. It first opened a booth in NYC’s Grand Central Station, where anyone could go in and interview a family member, friend or mentor about their life or a particular event. Now, they even have an app that you can download for a DIY version!
Here is a short intro told by the Founder, Dave Irsay and his young nephew:
“…I found this tape recorder lying around and somehow I got the idea to interview [my Grandparents.] I didn’t have a clue what I was doing, but I recorded their voices and stories and I saw how much they loved being listened to.”
2. Ask Them About Their Legacy. I asked each of my grandparents if they could leave behind a legacy, what would it be? How would they like to be remembered? What particular part of their life were they most proud of? They were taken aback. Partially, I think, because they were shocked that I cared. I am ashamed to think that I give off the impression that I don’t care about their past, but come to think of it, I think most of us fail to ask our elders about the details their life before we came into it. I was deeply moved by each of their answers.
My mother’s mother was a single mom of four in her twenties. She got choked up as she unveiled her legacy:
“To have raised four beautiful children whom society does not have to take care of.”
3. What Struggle Did You Overcome That You Want Me To Learn From/About? This question has the power to bring you and your elders closer in five minutes than you have ever been.
A parent and grandparent’s job is to love and protect you from harm, while simultaneously giving you the tools to grow into a self-sufficient, adult.
This means that up until recently, you were probably shielded from stories and details of their struggles. You are now an adult, and it is up to you to open the door to the past and learn about the adversity they faced that may have shaped your very family!
My father’s father is a recovered alcoholic. I have only known my Pop-Pop as a sober and positive man: the life of the party and a deeply affectionate soul. When I asked him this question, he opened up to me about his road to spirituality and how it ultimately saved his life. In fact, that same day, he copied and mailed me nearly 30 pages he wrote and filed under “Spiritual & Successful Living”. I am stunned by how much our spiritual beliefs overlap, despite growing up in very different times and with no affiliation to a particular religion.
I even adopted his mantra “Life is Consciousness” and credit it as being the core of my own spirituality!
I am more grateful for this experiment than any other thus far, partly because it is so time-sensitive, but mostly because it has taught me the importance of digging deep and asking questions, even when you THINK YOU KNOW IT ALL. #grownupwisdom
How do you plan on soaking up your grandparents? Did this experiment help you discover something life changing? Share in the comments below!