How to Be Present: A Lesson from Our Grandparents
There is something to be said about wisdom that comes with age. Our brains might be more flexible while we are young, and there is an undeniable advantage in physical prowess, but the world would definitely be a better place if a larger percentage of humanity actually paid attention to what our grandparents say. Their advice can be especially useful in the realm of parenthood, family relationships, and health – but it all comes down to one overarching lesson from our grandparents: how to be present.
Healthy family relationships are cultivated through listening
Human beings are social creatures, so it’s not exactly groundbreaking to discover that this is the most important aspect that determines family relationships. Every issue not verbalized slowly grows and festers until it completely shatters a relationship with a family member – and such shattering moments are pretty potent when you consider that you are bound to spend most of your life near that person.
However, verbalizing the issue is only half the work. Listening is the crucial moment that determines whether the “bad blood” will be siphoned out of your family unit. Such problems can be especially damaging for parent-child relationships, yet the wise words from my grandmother always kept ringing in my ears: “just be there for them”. The simplicity of it went over my head. It’s not about your idea of your child’s issue, it’s about actually listening without prejudice, being present at that moment and understanding your children fully, as individuals that are still forming.
Avoid role-playing a family member
There is nothing more damaging to a conversation than “assuming the roles”. Assuming is the keyword here – all of us usually approach other family members with a filter – the idea of what your key role is in that family dynamic. If you are a parent, your line of thinking will be polluted with the idea of how you, as a parent, should behave in a particular situation. In these situations, we usually channel the behavior of our own parents instead of being present. There’s that old saying that probably originated from virtually every grandparent in the world: “if you begin to remind yourself of your parents, you are doing it all wrong”, and once again, there are layers of wisdom in that.
Remember, you are channeling your own idea of how your parents did their job, which is not the real thing. This is why it is so important to stay in close contact with all members of your close family, across generations. I still go to visit my grandmother in the Lake Macquarie retirement village, and even though she is very old, conversations with her provide me with incredible insight into what sort of family trappings I should avoid.
Presence is patience
Have you noticed how your grandparents have the patience for everything, even their confused grandchildren or hyperactive great-grandchildren? Most people assume it is due to the fact that they hardly have any obligations left in their life, but there is more to it than meets the eye. At the end of the day, they have learned that full presence and appreciation of others leads to absolute understanding and patience. Throughout their life, they have been taught this not by other people but by the mere act of living.
Nothing replaces experience, and raising several generations of kids surely tends to teach you a thing or two. Your grandparents will try to teach you some of these lessons but they will not do it forcefully (like, for example, your parents might). This is due to the fact that they are fully aware of the fact that hardly anyone learns from other people’s mistakes, and they have come to believe, and rightfully so, that this is the right way.
What you do is more important than what you say
Deeds, not words, this is the name of the game. Your true attention means more than your advice, and your family members, especially your kids, will intuit that you are not really present. Cultivating a successful parent-child relationship is not a matter of verbal sparring – it is a matter of strategically placed words at the right moment, based on what you heard. It is about purchasing a surprise-present as a token of affection, about appearing rather than hearing, it’s about going into the adventure together, hand in hand. This is often a pattern of behavior you will see in a relationship between the grandparent and the grandchild. There might be something to it.
All living creatures on planet Earth have to carry on a legacy from their parents and grandparents. However, when it comes to humans, it goes beyond behavior imprinted into genetics. It is also a legacy of personality, kindness, social patterns and a complex set of parameters that can hardly be defined as primordial. This is, in essence, the wisdom we ever so sought, and nobody has a clearer vision of what this wisdom is than your elders. If you listen to their advice, even for a bit, you might just stop being hung up on the past and having trepidations about the future.