Boomers fulfill the role of the Tribal Elder as titular heads of their family. This role crosses all cultures, ethnicities and economies. Historically, families and communities look to seniors to be role models setting standards for behavior. Even in those families fractured by divorce, separation or estrangement, how Boomers conduct themselves transmits direct or indirect messages to each family member.
In my book, I’m Still Your Grandma I’m Still Your Grandpa, I examine three categories where the role of Tribal Elder is most apparent. Those categories are: Socialization, Health and Well-Being, and Values. It is the latter category which is the focus for today’s blog.
If you want to demonstrate your values to your grandchildren, remember, A person’s behavior is the strongest statement that they make. ‘Do as I say, not as I do’ might have worked for our grandparents, but it is not effective in our contemporary culture. Consider the following, four basic principles in helping your demonstrate your values to family members:
1. Keep your word and your promises. If you commit to doing something with or for your grandchildren, by all means do it. Make your promises within your capacity to deliver. Granted, sometimes life interferes and our plans change, but knowing you are dependable can help children feel secure.
2. Honesty is the best policy. Keeping it real and honest in your interactions with your family members is important. I wrote a 2013 Huffington Post column on the topic of lying to children . And although the context of the column was related to divorce and separation, the core elements are applicable to any circumstance:
Children naturally ask questions. The context for their questions is grounded in THEIR world and related to their age and stage of development.
Suggestion: Keep answers to their delicate questions simple, factual and age appropriate; no need to add a complex narrative.
One of the riskiest behaviors is for one adult to exaggerate negative information about a family member. The whole field of parent/grandparent alienation has developed based on this conduct, and the fact is it can be very tough to control the urges to demonize a parent or grandparent. When hurt, anger, or a sense of betrayal fuels the delivery of information so it stretches the truth, everyone suffers.
Suggestion: When tempted to say negative, inflated things about a family member, remember part of your child’s identity lies with blood relatives. Hurtful exaggerations can also wound the child.
If you are considering lying to a child about family circumstances, consider what you are trying to accomplish and the context of your actions. Do you want to protect the child from feeling hurt or anxious? Is your motive to make yourself look better or superior? Do you feel good about your actions? Are you lying to delay pain, harm or suffering?
Suggestion: Confer with someone you trust before deliberately lying to a child. Consider how you would feel if you were on the receiving end of the story, and make sure you can live with the result if the truth comes out.
And finally, the fact adults are demonstrating behavior their child (of any age) will copy or repeat is a dramatic reason to consider when and if to lie. By lying to a child….and realizing the child may eventually find out the truth…..you demonstrate to your child lying is an okay behavior. Because children don’t have adult filters to determine when stretching the truth might be necessary, their impulses around lying may be hard to control.
Suggestion: Frequently remind your youngster of any age they will never get in trouble for telling you the truth. Always remember, your behavior (not your words) sends the strongest messages to your children.
3. Demonstrate your commitment to your faith. The broad range of religious and faith-based belief systems in today’s culture is tremendous. If you have a personal faith which plays an important part of your life, demonstrate it to your grandchildren. Exposing children when they are young to a faith will help them select what works for them as they get older and help them develop a basis to answer life’s big questions. If you do not participate in a structured religion, The Golden Rule can guide you in almost any moral predicament.
4. Keep your sense of humor. Laughter is, indeed, the best medicine. Laugher is contagious and can lighten any mood. Laughter does not make our life difficulties go away, but it certainly helps us get through them.
The original content of this blog can be found in I’m Still Your Grandma I’m Still Your Grandpa, a handbook for Boomer Grandparents.