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Here's a chance to catch a glance of the future that lies ahead for you. If you want to get a pretty good idea of how your children will treat you in your senior years, take a look in the following four places.
1) Look at how you treat your children.
2) Look at how positively you contribute to your adult children’s and your grandchildren's lives.
3) Look at how you treat your parents.
4) Look at the religious teachings, or lack thereof, that you share with your offspring.
Scene 1: How parents treat their children.
Yesterday in a grocery store parking lot I heard a mother berating the six or so year old son who was walking next to her.
“I’m going to ground you for this,” she angrily scolded him. “You are such a little, s**t. You really bug me.”
As Chaim Ginott pointed out many years ago in his still-classic book on parenting, Between Parent and Child, what you say to your children describing them is what they will become. This mother was raising her child to be negative, abusive, and provocative—to “really bug” her. She was doing the opposite of modeling kindness, showing concern for his feelings, or nurturing him.
Scene 2: How involved parents are as contributors to their adult children’s and grandchildren’s lives.
I spoke recently with a neighorhood woman who had just had a baby. I asked her how was she doing.
“It’s been hard but my mom will take him to her office and watch him one day a week. She drives our older kids to their afterschool activites one day a week too after she finishes at her work, which helps a lot. And twice a week she takes one of the kids ice-skating where they practice together; she figure skates while he practices for his hockey team.
“My dad takes our oldest son to a class on reigious philosophy that he teaches once a week. Now that it’s light until late in the evening he takes all the kids except the baby to practice hitting golf balls with him after work. He’s also taking one of our boys with him on his trip next month to New York.
“Last night one of our kids had a stomach flu so my husband stayed home with the vomiting patient. We didn’t want the rest of us to catch the illness, so I bundled all the other kids into the car and headed for a sleepover at my parents’ house. It was really fun, except that we all, the kids included, stayed up too late talking and laughing. Fortunately in the early morning my mom took the 5:30 am. shift with the baby so she was exhausted at work the next day, not me...
"I feel so lucky having parents that are so actively involved in our lives. That's part of why adding another baby to our crew feels almost manageable ..."
Scene 3: How adults treat their elderly parents.
Several weeks ago I attended a funeral where a granddaughter spoke of her memories of their grandfather who had lived in good health to the ripe age of 97.
“When I think of Grandpa in recent years I see him with my mother. My mother visited Grandpa where he lived, just a few blocks from her house, at least two or three times a week. Whenever Grandpa needed something like shampoo, batteries, or a meal out when he didn’t like what they were serving in the dining room, she cheerfully took care of it. She was genuinely glad to be able to be helpful to him.
"My mom included Grandpa in Friday night dinners at our house no matter how many other people were coming over, and helped him with tender playfulness to ease himself up the series of steps to her house. In springtime and summer she took him out for walks, pushing him in the portable wheelchair she’d bought him, so they could enjoy the sunshine together. When my Mom had errands to do like filling the car with gas or going clothes shopping, she’d stop by Grampa's place to pick him up so he could come along to “help” her with his companionship.
"My mother and Grandpa modeled how I hope my siblings and I will be with our parents when they get old and need our help.”
Scene 4: The teachings of your religion, and the extent to which you expose your children and grandchildren to these teachings.
The following excerpt is from the website Chabad.org. The article it is from is based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and is printed on the Chabad site courtesy of MeaningfulLife.com.
The Torah (Hebrew for Bible) considers old age a virtue and a blessing. Throughout the Torah, "old" (zakein) is synonymous with "wise"; the Torah commands us to respect all elderly, regardless of their scholarship and piety, because the many trials and experiences that each additional year of life brings yield a wisdom which the most accomplished young prodigy cannot equal. It describes Abraham as one who "grew old and came along in days" (Genesis 24:1)--his accumulated days, each replete with learning and achievement, meant that with each passing day his worth increased. Thus, a ripe old age is regarded as one of the greatest blessings to be bestowed upon man.
This is in marked contrast to the prevalent attitude in the "developed" countries of today's world. In the 20th-century western world, old age is a liability. Youth is seen as the highest credential in every field from business to government, where a younger generation insists on "learning from their own mistakes" rather than building upon the life experience of their elders. At 50, a person is considered "over the hill" and is already receiving hints that his position would be better filled by someone twenty-five years his junior. In many companies and institutions, retirement is mandatory at age 65 or earlier.
Thus society dictates that one's later years be marked by inactivity and decline. The aged are made to feel that they are useless, if not a burden.... After decades of achievement, their knowledge and talent are suddenly worthless. After decades of contributing to society, they are suddenly undeserving recipients, [expected to be] grateful for every time the younger generation takes off from work and play to drop by for a half-hour chat and the requisite Fathers' Day necktie.
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When religions teach the importance of valuing elders, younger generations feel that they need their senior family members. They then are likely to want to feed their elders with physical nourishment and, most importantly, with the actions and attitudes of loving-kindness that nourish folks' souls.
In sum, your actions in your adult years play a major role in determining what's likely to be ahead as you age. As you reap, so shall you sow.
Susan Heitler, Ph.D. is a Denver clinical psychologist and author of From Conflict to Resolution for therapists and The Power of Two for couples. Her current project, in addition to writing her blog on PsychologyToday, is an online marriage skills course, PowerOfTwoMarriage.com.