This Thanksgiving, like any other year, was marked with a moment when my mom, now known in my house as Momo, asked my children if they would take a picture with her around the Christmas Tree. After we battled SIGNIFICANT attitude from our reluctant subjects, we ended up with a terrible picture with just two dirty looking boys while the third pouted in the kitchen. This felt better and was an improvement over last year, though, when we only got a single child. We are all learning!
The moment we WANT to have is honoring multiple generations together because it feels so special (and if you are one of those people that has four generations of clean AND smiling family members in a single shot– I see you and have to remind myself that it’s just for Instagram!). After the isolation of COVID, being with people who are older, younger and in between is so rare and special that we feel compelled to mark it with a holiday-card-worthy photo every time.
But you all, this is not how it has to be! We are designed to raise our families among older folks, twenty year-olds, babies, pets, along with everything and everyone in between. And this feels almost impossible in today’s world– we are all running so fast, in so many directions that we don’t have time and space to be with people who aren’t in our exact phase of life. Even more, we don’t trust people who HAVE multigenerational relationships– when I told my oldest that I wanted to reach out to UVA students and invite them over for dinner, he said that I seemed like a “creep.” And while he is right that we have to be thoughtful about who we develop relationships with, it doesn’t make sense to reflexively shy away from actively spending time with people of all ages.
Fortunately, we are going to be spending the next few weeks on my Active & Connected Families podcast and this blog talking about HOW we develop multigenerational relationships and reach out farther in our communities. But first, today, I want to highlight just one reason WHY.
Last week, after the recent tragedy at UVA, I sat with students, a dog named Marshall, and his owner, Patty, a 70-year-old retired nurse and mother. All strangers, we sat together and reflected on how petting Marshall helped us be present and regulate our bodies. I noted that I was trying to do the same thing with my kids– waking up with the intention of spending just a little good time with them everyday.
Patty, who raised her kids in the 70’s, looked at me and said, “That is amazing that you are thinking that way– I regret that I didn’t even THINK about that when I was parenting. I just kept trying to get to the next thing.” Then I said, “Well, I’m TRYING to be present, but I’m not sure my kids would say that I really am!”
At that moment, a second year student looked at me and said, “For what it’s worth, you sound like a really great mom.” You all, I was floored… the security of her world had just collapsed all around her and in the midst of it all she was able to offer me genuine, thoughtful support.
Her kindness emboldened me, and I turned to Patty, again a stranger until minutes before and said, “The only reason I have the SPACE to think about being present is because I’m not fighting the same battles you had to continually fight as a working mother. You forged a path for me to even have the OPPORTUNITY to think about trying to be present with my children.”
And Patty thanked me– I honestly think I helped her reframe a regret that she had been holding on to for a long time. And I was only able to do so because a young thoughtful college student gave me some strength in a time when we were all feeling down.
This year at Thanksgiving, I offered my mom the same thought I learned from Patty– that the sacrifices and gains of older generations have given us the opportunity to live more intentional, fulfilled lives. And that older generations don’t have to feel regret that they weren’t more intentional, but proud that their legacy is that we have been given the privilege to live our lives with real intent, meaning, and purpose.
But I wouldn’t have even known that this was a thing for Patty or my mom if I didn’t spend time with older AND younger generations than mine. And maybe they would have held on to those regrets longer if they hadn’t spent time with me.
When we spend time with people with a different perspective– we get just that, a different perspective. And sometimes that can be way more freeing and fulfilling than, dare I say it… individual therapy.
And thanks to Patty, Marshall, and ALL that I learned from this beautiful college student that I just met, taught me that even when the hardest things happen, people can be kind, energetic, giving, and thoughtful. We are resilient and there is hope– and I really needed to know that right now.
So I’m 30% done pushing for beautiful multigenerational holiday pics. I’d rather have crappy pictures of real life moments on a Thursday afternoon. Or, in my case, no pictures at all because I’m so present with the people I love…
But that’s why I said 30%, maybe 45%…! Those pics are still coming!!!!