Caregiving: The Benefits of Involving Children in Family Relationships

By Pamela D. Wilson, CSA, MS, BS/BA, CG

family relationships and conflictMany adults find themselves raising children and caregiving for aging parents or grandparents. When I was young, my mother was very good about taking me to visit my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other family members who were aging and already in need of care. In many families this activity does not occur because parents feel the need to shield children from sickness and end of life. I attended my grandfather’s funeral when I was 5 year old. Aging family members were a part of my life that I enjoyed, not feared.

The risk in isolating children from older family members and aspects of healthy and death is that children will be less informed and prepared about the role of caregiving when caregiving becomes an eventual life event. By purposely involving young and college aged children in the lives of grandparents and elders, both have the opportunity to learn from each other. This early experience supports caregiving as an activity in later life.

Below are 10 tips for involving children with grandparents, learning old fashion values and skills, and building strong family relationships to consider during summer vacation from school and throughout the year that will support future family caregiving relationships:

Talking versus emailing or texting. The art of conversation and communication is becoming a lost art. Cursive writing is no longer taught in schools. Computers, cellphones, and other electronic devices are the main methods of conversation. Consider scheduling family dinners one or more nights a week where technology is not allowed and if necessary, identify a topic of conversation so that all may participate in meaningful conversation and camaraderie.

Participating in a weekly family project. Everyone has a long list of projects. Consider the idea of weekly participation in a grandparent or an older family member project. How about taking grandma, grandpa, aunt or uncle grocery shopping, out to a movie, to an event, or simply visiting their home and playing a game of cards? The activity will provide 1:1 social support and provide the opportunity for children to benefit from becoming better acquainted with a an older family member.

Making versus buying. We are pressed for time and buy things versus taking the time to make them. Years ago individuals viewed buying a cake or going out to dinner as a rare and special occasion. Today we take these actions without thinking. Do your children know how to cook and bake? Time is a precious commodity. If you don’t have the time, grandma or another older adult in the family might be willing to teach your children how to make a family recipe or bake a cake. These are skills that are never wasted and may support the creation of a family recipe book of favorites to pass down from generation to generation.

Gardening and giving. Years ago gardening was a common activity. How nice is it to eat a fresh home grown tomato or to eat lettuce pulled from the garden?  If land is at a premium, why not start a garden inside the house with a couple of pots? Whether in your home or grandma or grandpa’s home or yard this can be an activity that starts a new hobby of gardening and enjoying the outdoors. There is also a sense of pride associated with gardening and producing vegetables or fruits to share with others.

The letter club. When I was young I had a brother and a sister who moved away from home. I wrote a letter each month and looked forward to receiving letters in return that included stickers, fuzzy pipe cleaners, or other treats. For family who is at a distance, how nice might it be to correspond the old fashioned way? Find an interested family member and begin a letter of the month club where you commit to write one letter each month. A side benefit will be improving your writing and communication skills.

Learning to host. The summer provides three holidays: Memorial Day, 4th of July, and Labor Day to support family gatherings. Consider inviting family that you haven’t seen in a while and have your children learn to host the holiday event. Work together to decide on the menu, beverages, and decorations and allow your children to take the lead. Plan to take family photos and share stories via video that can then be distributed post event to all family members.

A technology free weekend. Years ago there was no technology including television. One might wonder how we survived! Plan a technology free family weekend by identifying an agenda of events such as family meals, outdoor activities like hiking or going to the zoo, and indoor activities like participation in hobbies, playing card games, board games etc. Make specific goals related to learning more about each other that include interests, personal goals, family history and life events. Make the time to devote to developing family relationships and schedule vists to see grandma, grandpa, aunts, uncles and cousins.

Movie night. Identify movies that focus on family stories and schedule an occasional movie night. Make it an event with popcorn and finger foods. Watch the movie and discuss the characters, the plot, and wisdom that might be gained from the movie theme. Allow each member of the family to choose a movie to support variety and to gain a new perspective about a subject that is of interest to another individual in the family.

Become unstuck. How many times do we refuse to participate in an activity because we have no interest? Once a month as a family, agree to try a new activity that no one has previously experienced. Agreeing to participate in a new experience supports the ability to compromise and to be willing to try new things—a win-win for all involved.

Supporting a cause. The benefits of supporting a cause or volunteering for a cause are significant. With many available summer hours, engage children in a cause. There are stories of children collecting coats for a fall coat drive, collecting pet food for local shelters, working outdoors to clear hiking trails, volunteering to help the elderly. Better yet, involve grandparents in the effort to provide supervision and encouragement.

Family time also supports adult children coming together when parents age—if this activity was supported when the children were younger. The reality is that families grow up and grow apart. Instilling good family values when children are still living at home is important. Supporting family relationships between generations is also important when children are young. While these efforts take time and effort, the benefits throughout life and in later life will be closeness and a camaraderie that transcends distance and time.Learning skills related to caregiving is similar to learning skills that revolve around family involvement. Summertime, when children are out of school and home for college, is the perfect time to identify opportunities for family interaction and involvement especially with older family members who live nearby. This early interaction supports caregiving skills later in life and can take the surprise out of grandma or grandpa becoming ill if ongoing contact has occurred during the years.

Pamela D. Wilson, MS, BS/BA, CG, CSA, Certified Senior Advisor specializes in working with family and professional caregivers to navigate healthcare and aging concerns. Wilson, an expert in the field of caregiving, has personally helped thousands of family and professional caregivers since 2000 in her career as an advocate, a care navigator, and an educator. Through her company, The Care Navigator, she is an advocate and service provider in the roles of guardian, power of attorney, care manager, and transition specialist. She was producer and host of The Caring Generation®, from 2009 to 2011, an educational radio program for caregivers on 630 KHOW-AM.  In addition to her work at the Care Navigator, Pamela gives back to the community by serving as chairperson of the Community Ethics Committee in Denver, Colorado.

Her new book, The Caregiving Trap: Solutions for Life’s Unexpected Changes, is available through all major bookstores as well as on PamelaDWilson.com.  You can follow Pamela on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Linked In

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