In the US we hear the word Freedom bandied about a great deal. We fought (and still do) for our freedom. But what does it actually mean? Perhaps more important: what does it mean to you? Our nation’s foundational documents mention several particular freedoms. You may or may not know what those first Americans wrote. Don’t assume you do, look it up for yourself.
But in our day to day life we expect to be free from some things and to have the freedom to do most things we choose to. All well and good, but sometimes our choices regarding what we think of as ‘personal’ freedoms have had a negative impact on our lives and on society in general.
As we grow to maturity we actively battle for the freedom to be our own person: to do our own ‘thing.’ Natural and necessary, but in the pursuit of all this ‘individuality’ what becomes to the “old folk”?
When I was young I saw The Savage Innocents, a 1959 film starring Anthony Quinn, which portrayed ‘Eskimos’ putting old people out on ice floes. I have since learned that while this did happen, it was rare and even then only occurred in dire circumstances.
The movie made a huge impression on me because of the positive impact my own grandparents had on my life. Are we inadvertently doing the same thing today? We are too busy to care for our elderly and are not willing to relinquish a moment of our time we do so. Most would rather pay to have someone else take over what was traditionally the family’s responsibility.
If you take the idea of freedom, expand it to mean personal freedom, you reach a point when it degenerates to include zero individual responsibility and becomes little more than selfishness. In truth, there are no rights without responsibilities.
But are we “throwing out the baby with the bathwater”? What is it that we are losing and what is it that we are gaining in the ‘name’ of our rights, our so called freedoms?
When I was very young we lived with my grandparents, and they later became our babysitters. When things reversed, and they were a lot older: they came and lived with us. This was standard practice in the US, as it was in the world. But it isn’t the norm here any longer. And I believe the price exacted has been steep.
My parents got married very young. Did they know how to raise children? No. Really, what beginning parent does? No matter the age at having the first baby, everyone is a ‘newbie.’ Children don’t seem to come with instruction manuals or tech support. That’s where grandparents and other family members come in. They have the knowledge provided by the only real teacher — experience.
As we grow older, and our parents are at work, frequently the ‘grands’ are available to offer their time and help. In my case, my grandfather offered real world experience during times or in areas that my parents could not. Among the things we did together were going fishing, doing minor household repairs, and building things.
When my parents’ nerves were trashed due to life’s struggles and the challenges of ‘bringing up baby’ I was able to watch my grandparents and learn stoicism and persistence. And as they aged I learned some things regarding appreciation of life and joy during long-suffering.
In time we are all exposed to life’s harsher realities. The ones we have no idea how to deal with. The pain and joy of going through these things along with those we love and those who love us, is the true essence of life. This is the bittersweet truth of our existence. We need to stop hiding from it: the cost is too great. The guidance available from one generation to the next during difficult times can be priceless. We need each other.
Understand, I am not naive in this. Care must be taken that grandparents do not interfere with parental autonomy and youth must learn to not infringe on the needs of the ‘old timers.’ And I do not feel that the generations should live together all of the time: we all need time on our own to grow. The wing that covers to protect can also stifle. Somewhere there needs to be a balance. Closeness without being intrusive is the goal to work toward.
Parents: don’t rob yourself and your kids of the huge benefits that come from keeping the previous generation in close relationship with the next.
Grandparents: don’t pull away from the family contact. Allow yourself to share the joy and be around the activity of youth. They will help keep you feeling younger.
Children: everything you will think, feel, fear, love or hate — your elders have already experienced. Keeping friendly communication open with the older generation can only benefit you.
In all areas we must learn from the past to improve the future.