Robert’s Story: Keeping the Toddlers Involved in Family Meetings

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cute-baby-2220375_1280

The thing about Family Meetings is that if you make them a habit when children are young, they continue to be a priority as children age. There may be a different feel at different times of life, but that is the beauty and essence of knowing and growing in sync with one another.

When Ariella was a baby it was easy to have her in the room napping in her carrier or stroller, but as she became a toddler, dad Robert was more concerned about her making it through the hour or so long meeting.

Doors were always kept open during the meetings. The youngest ones ran off to play, at first.  But he noticed that they eventually came back into the room to burrow into their parents’ or cousins’ laps, and seemed to be listening attentively.  Pretty soon they began piping up during the free-flowing conversation.

One constant agenda item for Robert and his family (and a good one in general) was to share a success or even a failure since the last meeting. Robert and Ariella picked a favorite piece of artwork she had made in pre-school and brought it with them to the meeting. He could see her joy as she told the story of her masterpiece and giggled with delight at her moment as the center of attention.

Of course having plenty of snacks, juice, and favorite toys on hand helped to make sure that Ariella stayed put, but Robert loved that Ariella could actually be a part of the meeting.

“Practice makes perfect.” Perfect is not what we’re aiming for, but practice does make habit. But starting conversations about all kinds of topics, even the hard ones, when grandchildren or young, it will be first nature by their teen years.

What kinds of things to you do to involve your grandchildren in family conversations?

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Put it in writing with Journaling

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The Power of Journaling

 Over the course of 50+ years as a social-work professional and mentor, I’ve discovered that a simple pen or pencil can be one of the most successful tools to inspire self-discovery, lasting growth, and life-satisfaction.

In “The Health Benefits of Journaling,” social-work professional Maud Purcell states:  “The act of writing accesses your left brain, which is analytical and rational.  While your left brain is occupied, your right brain is free to create, intuit and feel.  In sum, writing removes mental blocks and allows you to use all of your brainpower to better understand yourself, others, and the world around you.”

 My own experience strongly corroborates Ms. Purcell’s assertions, as does a wealth of literature in the field. It is universally acknowledged that journaling can help you:

  • “Know Thyself.” Addressing the past, present and future in writing, heightens our awareness of the forces that shape us.  Making a conscious effort to understand ourselves is essential if we hope to understand our relationships.
  • Sometimes all we need in order to value the good stuff in our lives and families is to see it in black and white.  The simple act of appreciating can confer a huge boost of optimism and energy… and that stuff’s contagious.
  • A family balance sheet can also propel us to confront unpleasant issues that need addressing and old wounds that may still fester.  This can spur on a key step in the journey towards healthy family relationships: the hugely liberating acts of trust-building and forgiveness.
  • Clarify (and even problem-solve). Writing about ongoing conflicts instead of seething or arguing over them, may help you sort out the details, put them in perspective, and understand another’s point of view.  This can actually help you resolve differences.  Plus, when issues are on paper, nobody needs to rely on memory.
  • Decompress. Getting things on paper can help get them out of your system, siphoning off anger and stress.   In this way, journaling can be good for your blood pressure, your blood sugar, your sleep cycle, your heart – and your soul.
  • See the journey. Journals can bring back memories in sharp focus.  Revisiting your struggles and your triumphs graphically illustrates how far you’ve come – which can empower you to keep TRYING, and keep growing.
  • Define and refine goals. The Family Vision Statement that emerges from these exercises can become a springboard for shared adventures in good times, and for having a support system in place when you need it, in hard times.

 

 

A Family Values Quiz

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Family Values Quiz

Grandparents often ask me, “How will I be remembered?” They know that they can leave valuables, but things can be lost, discarded or no longer considered valuable. A legacy of values, however, can guide grandchildren in their daily life, school, friendship, family relationships.

A value such as kindness becomes integrated into the being of the grandchild’s personality. It can be forever and it can be shared and taught to other members of the family and friends. It is part of the Teaching-and-Learning culture of the family, and the grandchild’s world outside of the family.

Interestingly, delving into Values often helps people to discover unexpected areas of commonality, notwithstanding what may appear to be striking differences of opinion.  Some families, for example, are very much split along political or ideological lines.  There’s nothing wrong with healthy disagreement and debate, of course – it’s all part of a vibrant Teaching-and-Learning culture.  But if, for example, social justice emerges as a strong core value for all or most family members, there are ways to share and live this that are decidedly nonpartisan.  Families across the political spectrum, or with different religious beliefs or practices, can volunteer together in a soup kitchen or community renewal project, and share articles or books that inspire them.


Why do a Family Values Quiz?

Often values are unspoken or assumed, or manifest in different ways. They are based on where or how you were raised. Your children may have been raised in the same home, but connected with different values. They are now married and building their own family values. So what happens when all of these different values come together?

For us, the Family Values Quiz was a way to see the overlap, and to provide a framework for a deeper conversation about values. The results provided a map or lens for conversation. We know, too, that values and priorities are things that constantly change, so that’s why this discussion needs to be reviewed periodically to see where we are.

The Family Values Quiz can be a family meeting agenda item or it can be emailed in advance. First, I’ll share a copy of the quiz, and then, some insights to practical applications…what does it look like in everyday life to value adventure or generosity?

I’m not saying that this is an easy, clean, one-time process. But I do say always leave your campsite better than you found it; leave your school better than you found it, and leave your neighborhood and community better than you found it.

It is within your power to leave your family with greater meaning, and the world a better place, because your family was in it. The discussion around values is a step to making that happen.

 

Our Values Quiz

So how do you discover family members’ values? We started with a short, stimulating quiz as an agenda item at our inaugural Family Meeting. A sample of that quiz follows. Keep in mind, this is not a test. Rather it’s a thought starter around possible values as a basis for discussion, to see where values intersect, diverge, overlap.

My granddaughter Katie has suggested a different ‘ranking scale’ might work for some families. “Aside from a couple that are more of a personal preference, I have a hard time believing that anyone would willingly put ‘not important’ to most of these… thus making it harder to find the top priorities.” It may be in the practical application where priorities emerge.

Have fun taking the quiz, tallying the results and discussing them.  What will emerge is a kind of treasure map for your family life – a picture of the many rich attributes and values, interests and convictions, that each of you contributes to the collective, to make it a vibrant whole.

 

SAMPLE VALUES QUIZ

 

Value Description

Not

Important

Somewhat

Important

Very

Important

Adventure (new experiences, challenges, excitement)      
Balance (appropriate attention devoted to various aspects of life and activities)      
Contribution & Generosity (desire to make a difference, to give)      
Cooperation (teamwork, working with others)      
Creativity & Artistic Expression (new ideas, innovation, experimenting, drama, painting, literature)      

 

Economic Security (freedom from financial worries)      
Fairness (equal chance, equal hearing for all)      
Family Happiness (desire to get along, respect, harmony)      
Friendship (intimacy, caring, support)      
Fun (enjoyment, pleasure, happiness)      
Inner Harmony (desire to be at peace with oneself)      
Integrity (honesty, sincerity, consistent demonstration of your values)      
Learning (growth, knowledge, understanding)      
Personal Development (improvement, reach potential, excellence, high standards, minimal errors)      
Spirituality (belief or interest in a higher power or God)      
Wisdom (desire to understand life, to exercise sound judgment)      
Interdependence (ability to ask for help & give help)      
Other (fill in your choice)

 

     
Other

 

     
Other

 

     

 

It may be tempting, initially, to try and define your family ethos by zeroing in on shared interests, or things that everyone likes to do together for fun. And, admittedly, focusing on the fun things first can provide an opening for the deeper values conversation. For example, a family where many members enjoy swimming may find that they share an affinity for environmental issues; or a family that enjoys playing chess may be interested in strategy and how that informs politics and democracy. Families who have fun cooking, at a minimum may boast better treats at their meetings, but may also find an underlying concern for food equity or supporting locally owned businesses.

But interests, hobbies and activities, for a host of reasons, may wax and wane through the years.  Core values, however, tend to endure – and they are frequently the foundation for our lasting passions and enthusiasms.  A family with a core value of “outdoor adventures and fitness,” for example, may relish taking ski trips together each winter.  But what happens during years when money is tight, or when a good portion of the family’s members are either too old or too young to participate?  Everyone can still have fun together, and fulfill the very same core value, by going (or watching!) sledding or ice-skating in a local park.

By exploring and coming to terms with our family’s areas of commonality and separateness, we teach the youngest generation how people of different beliefs respect each other, value each other’s contributions, and manage to get along in the world.

Life on the Farm: What I learned from my grandparents.

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Hen with Chics

This letter from Barbara Howard, to her grandma, was written when Barbara was 80. It’s part of the “The Grandchildren Speak” series, where we collected letters from grandchildren sharing what they learned from their grandparents.

 

My Grandma Nettie was an old-fashioned Midwestern farm wife.  She and Grandpa had nine children whom they raised on a rented farm in central Illinois.   I was her first grandchild and I always felt I was her favorite, though many others came after me.

I was a premature baby and they say I had constant colic.  My inexperienced parents didn’t know how to cope with it, so they asked Grandma to take care of me.  Whatever she did, it worked; I guess that was when we first bonded.

From the time I was a young child, in the 1940s, I started spending summers with my grandparents.  Four of my aunts and uncles still lived at home on the farm; my parents and I lived about 100 miles away, so this was a real adventure for me.  They had electricity, but no running water and few other modern conveniences.

Grandma baked bread every other day, and always made a muffin-sized, miniature loaf just for me.   She let me help her knead the bread, and sometimes with the pies she baked for Sundays.

On Saturdays, we went into town to do the weekly grocery shopping at the local Red & White store.  Occasionally, they would buy cattle-feed, which came in brightly patterned calico sacks; she would let me pick out the ones I liked best, and then use the material to make me a dress and matching bonnet.  (She tried to teach me how to sew, but I never did catch on to it.)

She used to play an old organ that she had to pump with her feet, and we sang gospel songs from an old hymnal.

Saturdays were bath-time and hair-washing time.  Bathwater from the pump was heated on the woodstove, and I was allowed to be the first to sink into the tin circular tub.  (I think she used the same bathwater for herself.)  She washed my hair outside on the porch, using a pitcher of water and a washbasin, and a beaten egg for shampoo.

She taught me so many things:  important skills like cooking and baking, gardening and canning.  Some of the skills didn’t end up being that important, in my life – like how to sneak an egg from under a sitting hen who was guarding her nest.  But most of all, she instilled in me patience, kindness, and faith.

I owe her so much.

BARBARA HOWARD (80)
NAPLES, FLORIDA

Dear Grandma, here’s what I learned from you (good Mother’s Day gift for mom’s too!)

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In my book, The Grandest Love: Inspiring the Grandparent-Grandchild Connection, I asked grandchildren to write a letter their their grandparents. The topic was “what I learned from you.” (see others here.)

This is a beautiful and meaningful thing for a grandparent to know while they are still alive how they have helped and guided their grandchildren. My book project started after my Margaret passed away. Ethan, now an ordained rabbi, still wrote this letter to her. I dare you to read it and not cry.

Parents…grab paper and a pen or beautiful paper that can go through a printer. Tell your children to write to your parents. Or, grandchildren, you can do this on your own. This is a gift that can still arrive by Mother’s Day, and will last forever.

Dear Grandma Margaret,

I know that this might seem a little weird, writing you a letter even though you left us many years ago, but your husband asked me to write you a letter and I pretty much won’t say no to Grandpa.  I am going to resist the urge to ask about how you are doing and what you are up to but I will tell you that I am well.  I am in rabbinical school now and I am working on ways of bringing an old religion to people through new technologies (and also some old technologies too).

My dad told me once that you predicted when I was born that this is what I would do with my life – nice job.  Actually I think that I learned a lot about faith from you.  The predictions and star-chart stuff, not to mention Tarot cards and previous lives, were perhaps all about your belief in the unseen and that there are forces at work in our universe that are beyond our mien but that we can tap into briefly and rudimentarily if we go about it in the right way.

In fact, Grandma, as I write this I realize that I completely share in your belief in the power and magic of the world around us and that I would not be who I am today without it, or without you.  You taught me that it is okay to have faith, and that belief and love of these things is not silly and doesn’t make you silly.  On that same note you also taught me to enjoy little things other people miss, and that there is cool stuff to be found in even mundane things like puzzles and wearing purple.  You taught me that nothing should be overlooked and that if you note and remember everything you see, you will be really, really good at crossword puzzles.

You taught me that messy rooms can be a lot of fun and I inherited, or learned, that same trait from you.  It is a trait that says you want to be able to do anything and everything (because anything and everything can be cool) and don’t have time to pick up things, or need to have them in neat piles or put away.  If there is a path to walk through and I know where everything in the room is, why should I clean it up more than that?

However you also showed me the dangers of such a life and such a room.  The pitfalls of half-finished quilts and paintings, the lost items that infuriate (“I know it is in the room somewhere”) and the need for maybe a little bit of order.  You taught me mostly through example that there is a dangerous quality to the mixture of passion, intellect and scattered enthusiasm for everything that runs in our family.  I both relish and fear the fact that I exhibit many of the qualities that you did in this regard.

This is where I would like to finish my letter to you, Grandma.  You taught me many little things about puzzles, marble runs, games, food, painting, poker and not to fight with my cousins.

Really, though, it was the big things that will stay with me and are the most influential in my life.  Your sense of play, the passion for life, the discipline and the faith in a magical universe have all been transmitted to me through a combination of teaching and DNA. These things have been a part of making me who I am today, for better and for worse, and they will continue to guide me as I go forward.

Thank you, Grandma, for all of the things you gave me, and for being a ready teacher and playmate.

I miss you and love you,

ETHAN (written at 26)

The Choices Grandparents Make, Make a Difference

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Grandparent watching Grandchild School Play

One of the guys from our Friday morning coffee klatch (actually, we men call it a “guys group”) pulled me aside to let me know why he would not be there next Friday. “I’m going to Scottsdale to see my granddaughter in her school play.”

Of course I liked the part where he added “because of you.” I’m always challenging the group and asking them how they have actively engaged their families and connected with their grandchildren. “Ugghh—I don’t want to know what they are feeling!” some have responded. But today Art (not his real name) said “I heard you Jerry. It’s a good idea.”

Holding back full restraint from saying “I told you so” (I may have said “I told you so”) I’m moved by the idea of choice. How we make choices every day, and how those choices impact our relationships.

In this case, Art was invited on an annual trip that was very exciting and something he wanted to do. At the same time, however, he had gotten an invitation from his granddaughter to go to Arizona to see her perform in the school play. He’s gotten these invitations before and just assumed it was a courtesy. No-one really expected him to travel across the country for something that happens in the regular course of school.

This time he chose to go.

It is hard, takes time and money, but soon our grandchildren will be grown up and things like school plays won’t even be an option. What is it but all of those day-to-day things that make up our grandchildren’s world? This time he chose to be a part of this part of her growth and development.

Their world right now is school.

How do you enter their world? Reach them where they are. Find out what your grandchildren are reading in school and read the book. Go to see their sporting events or schools plays and concerts. And if you absolutely can’t be there, find an older sibling or other family member who can livestream while the event is going on.

Just as technology divides us, it brings us together.

Skype, FaceTime, Facebook Live…these are all platforms that allow you to see what’s happening in real time.

But you, my fellow grandparents, have to make the choice to make it happen.

What are your grandchildren up to this weekend?

“What will I leave behind in this world? What will be my legacy?”

Four Generations

Through the many years that I’ve been listening to grandparents share their hopes and dreams, their regrets and fears, the word “legacy” is one that comes up over and over.  It’s a word that carries much weight and many meanings.  Most of us, of course, are concerned about our legacy in its most tangible manifestation: a financial bequest or endowment. Regardless of our financial bracket, we hope to maximize whatever we may be able to pass down to our heirs.

The Grandest Love bespeaks an investment in grandchildren’s lives that goes beyond money.  We hope that, in some way, the deepest principles that have guided our own lives, will be carried forth by them as they forge their unique paths into the future.

I’m sure I didn’t coin this phrase, but it captures the idea beautifully:  we want to leave values, not only valuables

 I’m going to give you some ideas on how you can “bequeath” both values and valuables while you’re still around to enjoy it by working with your grandchildren to devise your own family’s “Living Legacy Foundation.”

 

                                                   Values and Valuables

 But first:  let’s explore what a legacy may mean.  Once again I turn to author Stephen R. Covey:

There are certain things that are fundamental to human fulfillment.  The essence of these needs is captured in the phrase “to live, to love, to learn, to leave a legacy.”  The need to live is our physical need for such things as food, clothing, shelter, economical well-being, health.  The need to love is our social need to relate to other people, to belong, to love and to be loved.  The need to learn is our mental need to develop and to grow.  And the need to leave a legacy is our spiritual need to have a sense of meaning, purpose, personal congruence, and contribution.  (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, 1989)

 

When it comes to values – are there any guarantees that our grandchildren will actually embrace our legacy?  Will they proudly transmit our cultural heritage, abide by the traditions of the faith in which we raised them?  Will they treasure our Bubbie’s handwritten recipe-book from the old country?  Will they teach their children to love the Chicago Cubs?  The reality is:  there are no guarantees of any of it.  Here’s the best we can do, the best that we can hope for:

  • That through ongoing Teaching-And-Learning, throughout our lifetime, and by the example of how we’ve lived each day, our grandchildren will know what our values are, and why they matter to us so deeply; and even if they don’t share all of these values, or even agree with them, they will respect them.
  • That they will grow into people of strong morals, passions, family-feeling and convictions – the kinds of people who will strive to leave behind their own enduring and meaningful legacies.

Naturally, in thinking about our legacy to our grandchildren, we must never ignore the powerful influence of the generation in between, our adult children – and the fact that the beliefs and values they wish to instill in their offspring, rightfully take precedence over ours.  Adult children sometimes take paths that strongly diverge from how we raised them.  It is terribly important never to undermine or criticize their way of life, through our words or actions.  I don’t underestimate how difficult such situations can be – especially in regard to (for example) religious differences, when one generation or the other is extremely devout.  Yet, in all faiths and belief-systems, “peace in the family, harmony in the home” is a core value.  For us, as family elders, to steadfastly uphold this principle, may be the most important legacy we can leave.

Grandparenting with Love and Anxiety

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New Grandparent

 By Jerry Witkovsky, MSW, Author of The Grandest Love: Inspiring the Grandparent-Grandchild Connection and the Grandparent-Grandchild Connection School Program

Barbara is counting the days until she and her husband, Dave, become first-time grandparents.  A startlingly clear sonogram picture of their grandson in utero is the cover image on their daughter Carrie’s Facebook wall.  His name will be Tyler. “I know it’s crazy,” says Barbara, “but I love him already!”

No seasoned grandparent considers this “crazy” at all.

Inside a wicker bassinet in the guest room, Barbara has collected her dreams for Tyler’s first years:  a christening gown that was his mother’s; a collection of board books and stuffed animals; tiny rubber water-shoes to protect tiny feet from hot sand and jagged shells.  “Dave and I always loved taking Carrie to Jones Beach when she was growing up,” she says, her eyes filling with happy tears.  “Now we can’t wait to take her little boy.”

Like many of her friends who live near their adult children, Barbara (not her real name) has offered to care for her grandson several days a week after her daughter returns to work part-time.  She is facing this new role with a heart full of love, anticipation, and no small amount of anxiety.  Barbara is a very competent woman, but she’s scared – really scared – she’ll mess up.

 “My own parents were extremely critical and overbearing, and I HATE when I hear myself ‘butting in’ just like they did,” she admits.  “Dave’s folks – they were more reserved.  But frankly, I want more of a connection with Tyler than they ever had with any of their grandchildren.”

On the positive side, says Barbara, their relationship with daughter Carrie is in a good place now, after some difficult years during her teens and early 20s.  And they are cordial with their son-in-law and his kin.  Still, Barbara frets: “My friends keep telling me there’s only one sure way to stay welcome in your children’s and grandchildren’s lives:  ‘Keep your mouth shut and your wallet open.’  A lot of the experts seem to agree!  But do you really need to wear a permanent muzzle to be a good grandparent?  Because, frankly, I don’t know if I can manage that!”

Mouth Shut. Wallet Open.

“My Children… Hear My Voice in a Special Way”

“Mouth shut/wallet open” – quite a strong prescription for preventing intergenerational conflicts.  To be fair, it does contain some basic truths about human relations.  Nobody appreciates tactless, relentlessly opinionated purveyors of unsolicited advice.  And everybody appreciates people who are, to the best of their abilities, genuinely and joyfully generous, both materially and spiritually.  In that sense, we should all go through life guarding our tongues, and opening our “wallets” and hearts to support one another!

 For many grandparents, however, the poignant observations of author Anne Roiphe will hit home.  “Ah, my poor tongue is sore from being bitten,” writes Roiphe in a grandparenting.com blogpost, excerpted from an anthology of essays titled Eye of My Heart (ed. Barbara Graham, Harper, 2010).  Her well-intentioned advice is never welcomed, she points out ruefully:

            When my daughter’s first baby had colic and woke every 20 minutes, I suggested that she be left to cry a little while before being picked up.  My daughter glared at me, a thousand daggers.  ‘You would suggest that,’ she said, and burst into tears herself.  I could see that my daughter was at her wits’ end and could tolerate no suggestions at this tender, early stage of motherhood.  She needed me to say, “You’re doing everything right,” which she was, essentially — or would be soon enough.  I regretted my remark for the entire hour-long subway ride from her home back to my apartment.

I don’t want to risk hurting my children, who hear my voice in a special way.  A friend or neighbor can say almost anything without raising hackles.  I can say almost nothing without causing pain.  When I say, “I think the bath is too hot,” I simply mean that the water may be too warm for the baby.  But my daughters might hear me say, “You can’t get the bath temperature right, what’s the matter with you?”  From me, my daughters want support, admiration, encouragement — and that is all they want.  They have books, the internet and friends for everything else.

Each one of us, at some time, has felt the pain of having a “sore tongue.”  Nonetheless, I’m convinced that we’re headed in the wrong direction  – as families, and as a society – if we embrace the notion that grandparents must serve as unequivocal cheerleaders who risk banishment if they say what’s on their minds.

We’ve come a long way, thankfully, since the repressive and regressive decree that America’s children should be “seen and not heard.”  Yet grandparents not so long ago the wise old oracles – are now supposed to be muzzled

Like most unbalanced relationship-paradigms, it’s ultimately a loss for all parties.  But how do we achieve that elusive balance between overstepping our bounds, and feeling silenced?  How do we steer clear of repeated, corrosive conflict, but still hear what’s in each other’s hearts?

What it feels like to be 90

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Jerry Witkovsky 90

At 80ish I wrote a chapter for a book, 80 Things to Do When you Turn 80. The chapter was titled “Life is an Adventure. In it I talked about meeting my wife Margaret and our long life together, and on writing a book and rebuilding my life after she passed. The theme for that article was to keep moving forward. “Don’t die until you’re dead,” I counseled.

Moving on, I just celebrated my 90th birthday on March 29. 90 years old. During my lifetime we have gone from needing a live operator to make a phone call and gathering around the radio for entertainment on a Sunday night, to free International video calls and full-length movies on demand in the palm of your hand.

 How does it feel to be 90?

Jerry Witkovsky Grandchildren

I wrote about five different speeches for my birthday party last month. But before I get to my speech, I have to say, it was so wonderful to be surrounded by family: my two children and their families, my six grandchildren and a great grandchild. Friends and family came to the beautiful Chicago Botanic Garden, my favorite place, to celebrate. I felt truly blessed to have touched so many lives in my 90 years, and to be surrounded by so much love.

I wrote five drafts of speeches for my birthday party. I was trying to find the words to reflect my feelings. Can I still make a difference at 90? Do I have the energy to continue to create programs and help others? After a few weeks of waffling on the subject, I finally concluded I will work to make a positive difference in the world as long as I am able.

With that in mind, I threw away the prepared speeches and spoke from the heart.

“Everyone in this room has contributed to who I am. You taught me and I teach you. You are all a part of who I am today.

“Three words that really give me guidance in my life are passion, creativity and commitment: commitment to myself, commitment to my family, commitment to Felice and her family.  These are the words that I wake up to in the morning.  When I think about that I am energized. And I keep moving.  I walk here [in the Chicago Botanic Garden) almost every day, even in the winter. It gives me vitality to keep moving.”

My bumper sticker at 90 is “always leave your campsite better than you found it.” This has been my mantra for 73 years, since I was a young camp counselor it this was a literal dictum. Now it means I will do everything in my power to keep making the world a better place. I do it with the Grandparent-Grandchild Connection School Program. I help grandparents enter the world of their grandchildren. I help families connect more deeply across the generations. I help schools build their community of support.

Action over Inaction

It’s so easy to make excuses for inaction. I imagine at 90 no one would fault me if I said I was tired and wanted to stay home. But I am blessed to have my health and most importantly my strong and open mind. Perhaps it is that open mind, that excitement about learning new things and exploring new ideas that keeps me young.

I attend classes at Northwestern University. They offer a program with weekly presentations from faculty on their current research. I meet regularly with my partner to create articles for Grand Magazine, blog posts about ideas and events and to engage new schools for the school program. In fact, I’ve added a new school to the Grandparent-Grandchild-Connection Program just in the last month.

We connect with other “grandparent activists” to explore possibilities. I recently connected with a young Rabbi based in Israel who is running a Global Intergenerational Initiative. Together we are looking at convening all of the people working in the grandparent space to see what ideas can flow by bringing people together.

At 90, I am comforted by knowing I have made a difference.

I was privileged to work with 1’000’s of families during 47 years at the JCC’s of Chicago, the last 18 of them as General Director. More often than not someone will approach me at a speaking event to let me know I was their camp counselor, or I gave them their first job as a camp counselor. Long-time friends, some for 64+ years, shared memories in letters to me for my birthday.

“Jerry, when you retired, I saw you uncertain about your direction, until you found another way to continue doing incredibly meaningful work. You created pathways for grandparents and their grandchildren to get to know each other in different ways, and find paths on which they are able to travel together. Through your book, the grandparent groups you lead, and the many presentations you give all across the country, you have enriched the lives of so many families and given new meaning and rich relationships to a whole new population…You were always a leader in your field, and it is heartwarming to watch and listen to you as you continue making a difference.”

At 90, I say “why stop now?”

Going back to my three words, passion and creativity are intertwined for me. It is a passion to help others that drives me. It’s the creativity to develop solutions that fuels me.

The Myth about Mental Illness and Guns

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The Myth of Guns Mental Illness

By Michael Witkovsky, The Psychiatrist Son

There are many horrible and awful things about school shootings.  They are life ending for innocents, and life transforming for survivors.  There is fear, helplessness, rage and profound sadness.  These feelings conspire to activate us towards solving all problems that promote the probability of such rare events.  However, one of the issues being put forward is not a solution to all but a major diversion tactic.

When these events happen, we are frequently, almost always, informed that the shooter was “mentally ill.”  This was true even after the recent Las Vegas shootings were there was no sign or history of mental illness.  Mental illness has become the scapegoat for the tragedy and evil perpetrated by gun related massacres.

The temptation to see mental illness as an associated cause stems from several of the perpetrators of such massacres having had a history of seeing a therapist or counselor, taking psychiatric medications, or having been psychiatrically evaluated.  But, at the time of the shooting, almost all were functioning in their families and communities.

Research documents: Most people with mental illness are not violent

The research on mental illness and gun violence is that most people with mental illness are not violent, and most violent people do not have mental illness.  The most common relationship between mental illness and violence is that persons with mental illness are more likely to be the victims of violence than the general population.  And, of those persons with mental illness who do engage in violent behavior, it is most often proceeded by victimization.

The political and ideological forces that position mental illness as the commonality across all episodes of gun related massacres are wrong.  It’s just not true that the commonality is mental illness.  The only true commonality in each of these events, across each of these events, is the presence of automatic weapons, military grade rifles.  Guns are the commonality, not mental illness.

The Myth of Mental Illness

But the myth of mental illness is continually presented. It is a powerful myth. It has power because we care about the mentally ill.  It has power because we all know somebody who has, or had, a mental illness. It has power because we don’t want our children to have unproductive or unhappy lives because of mental illness.  The myth is powerful because it focuses the fear we have from these events and tells us to place the energy from that fear to where we believe we can make a difference.  But mentally ill people should not become accepted as the source of our gun fear.

Why are the guns themselves not the source of our fear? There are other myths about guns. They are offered by powerful social forces and tell a powerful story. Such as having a gun for personal protection is good thing.  The data shows however that when there is a gun for self-protection in the household, its use is more likely to be for a suicide or homicide of somebody in the family.

So, these powerful forces create a different myth.  They engage in the manufacture of fear of groups of people such as those who come from certain parts of the world to this country, those who speak certain languages, those who practice certain religions, and those who have certain skin color.  This fear mongering plays well with several policy threads in our current government.  Most notably are the issues of immigration.  Guns are positioned, especially military grade guns, for our protection from these other groups of people.

Fear Mongering Doesn’t Help

The manufactured connection between mental illness and gun violence creates another separate group of our citizens, known by a medical problem, and they become the source of our fear.

Of all the damage that this fear mongering does, the most insidious is when it makes us afraid of our own children.  It makes us afraid that if they have mental health issue, they will become someone who massacres others in school.  It makes us afraid of other people’s children.  If we know that a neighbor’s child has been hospitalized because of a suicide attempt, or taking medications for depression, we will then worry forever if they will shoot up the school.  It is likely that we will then abandon, ignore, circumscribe or otherwise diminish the youth with mental illness.  It is in this isolation, denigration and loneliness where we frequently find the substance that feeds deviant behaviors such as school massacres.

The commonality is guns.  We should not be wrestling with being fearful of our children; we need to be resolute and fearless in removing guns.