In our last blog, Graham discussed the seasons of life, and our recent experiences of the birth of my first grandson and the death of his mother. I thought I would like to explore this theme a little further in this blog, and talk about my new role as a grandmother and the impact of this new experience.
When Graham and I started The Leader, we knew that we wanted to help leaders at all ages and stages, and we also wanted to make a contribution to the Encore movement – founded by Marc Freedman – where the talents and resources of people 50+ are harnessed to support younger generations.
In his latest book How to Live Forever: The Enduring Power of Connecting the Generations, Freedman sets out the challenges faced by much of the Western world, where older adults outnumber young people. It is predicted that this demographic shift will have adverse effects on the prospects of young people, cause cross-generational conflict, and create a generation gap.
This situation is compounded by the increasing needs of young people, particularly in terms of education and loneliness. However, Freedman believes that there is another way “to help avoid conflict, solve problems from literacy to loneliness, reweave the social fabric in communities, and reconnect us to our fundamental humanity.” He suggests that the needs and assets of the generations fit together like a jigsaw and there is no relationship more revered in modern life than that between grandparent and grandchild.
With my grandson now two months old, that last statement resonates with me like the perfectly contoured and angled pieces of a jigsaw. I find it almost impossible to describe the unconditional love I feel for him, and just the sheer joy of holding him and seeing him smile and interact. Equally it is wonderful being able to calm and soothe him when he cries. I have discovered reserves of energy and strength which let me play an active part in his day to day care, hopefully with mutual benefits.
Freedman also describes “significant evidence from evolutionary anthropology and developmental psychology that old and young are built for each other. The old, as they move into the latter phases of life, are driven by a deep desire to be needed by and to nurture the next generation; the young have a need to be nurtured."
Patience, Persistence and Emotional Regulation
Alison Gopnik, a child psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley, argues that the evolutionary role of grandmothers in caring for children “may actually be the key to human nature.” Stanford psychologist Laura Carstensen, a preeminent scholar of later-life development and quoted in our previous blog “Marathon Careers” comes to similar conclusions about the grandmother hypothesis, arguing that older people are essential to future generations and the well-being of the species. Carstensen also highlights our skills; patience, persistence, and emotional regulation, among others, that, study upon study shows, blossom with age.
In his book, Freedman asks how we can we adapt the grandmother hypothesis to the modern-family world. I love his comment that instead of trying to be young, our generation is now focused on being there for those who actually are young.
At The Leader, Graham and I both want to use our lived experience to help leaders at all ages and stages. When we started the business last year we had no idea what the future would hold, and certainly did not expect to go through life-changing situations within a few weeks of one another. Our resilience and emotions have been tested in recent weeks, but our lived experiences are now richer and deeper, and we hope we can turn these into practical wisdom and action in our coaching and supporting of others.
I see children as kites. You spend a lifetime trying to get them off the ground. You run with them until you’re both breathless…they crash…you add a longer tail…they hit the rooftop…you pluck them out of the spout. You patch and comfort, adjust and teach. You watch them lifted by the wind and assure them that someday they’ll fly.
Finally they are airborne, but they need more string and you keep letting it out. With each twist of the ball of twine, there is a sadness that goes with the joy because the kite becomes more distant, and somehow you know that it won’t be long before that beautiful creature will snap the lifeline that bound you together and will soar as it was meant to soar…free and alone.
Only then do you know that you did your job.
As a parent, you complete this journey with your own child, and as a grandparent you start anew with your grandchild...another example of the circle and seasons of life.
Take care. Lead well.