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active grandparents

As a family psychologist, I was struck by the fact there is often a key factor missing in society’s conversations about what makes individuals and families, and especially children, thrive: our deep need for intergenerational love and support—even in a determinedly self-reliant culture and digital age.

Grandparents matter. Jerry Witkovsky gets this, and as a new grandparent myself, I find his passion and enthusiasm delightfully contagious, and I plan to heed his call to action. In The Grandest Love, he offers practical and creative suggestions for developing meaningful, intentional family traditions that can be adapted to fit any family’s circumstances; they will enhance the well-being of all three generations and may be passed on for generations to come.

Jerry’s professional wisdom was born of his any years as esteemed head of a massive Chicago Community-center system and as a beloved camp director. And then there’s also his personal journey as a grandfather. No family is “perfect,” and Jerry is the first to say neither is his. But most families can be better, stronger, and happier. By candidly sharing his journey, Jerry makes us all feel like we can do better too. His sage advice comes from transformative experiences that offer hope for real growth in family relationships—change that may appear small but is in fact deep and lasting.

He is a strong advocate for the simple yet profound act of TRYING: grandparents going the extra mile in offering forgiveness, compassion, generosity, and humor; in demonstrating fortitude and eschewing all forms of pettiness; and in being open to learning as well as teaching (without preaching). Life is all too short, and we as “the family elders” surely know this better than anybody else in the intergenerational tringle! We can each do our small part to strengthen our families in ways that will be significant and empowering. And in doing so, as older adults, we are sustaining our own physical and mental health and vitality at the same time.

It is difficult—even overwhelming—to try and imagine what our grandchildren’s world will look like in the decades to come, with technology and world events developing at such a stunning pace. Jerry demonstrates that time-honored values and cherished family ties need not be lost in the inevitable rush. Instead of resenting change, he gives concrete examples of how technology can create opportunities for simple, consistent connections that strengthen relationships.

Grandparents need not settle for being left behind and feeling like we have nothing to offer or that our knowledge, skills, and talents have become irrelevant; we can proactively use technology, for example, to undertake important conversations that will underwrite our legacy. And through his incredibly innovative outline for a “Living Legacy Foundation,” Jerry also shows us how to transform our monetary gifts to grandchildren into a learning and bonding experience that is work its weight in gold.

By ingeniously incorporating dozens of charming and sometimes poignant vignettes contributed by ‘grandchildren” of all ages, Jerry proves that a caring adult’s small gestures, encouraging words, and moral example remain vivid in one’s mind for a lifetime. Transmission of family stories helps children blossom into kinder, more embracing adults; this is one of many lessons to be taken from the contributors’ uplifting accounts that include grandparents’ immigrant struggles, tragedies of history, poverty, and personal trials.

Through inspirational stories that are devoid of self-pity and offer only hope, we learn too that individuals are capable of rising out of virtually every sort of disadvantage, to reinvent themselves—and that lives (or families) need not be “ruined” by misfortune. Is there a more valuable lesson for us today?

Brimming with practical wisdom, ageless optimism, and soul-stirring humanity, this uplifting book celebrates the power of grandparenting to transform the lives of individuals and families. The passion, creativity, and candor on its pages will inform and enrich your own grand journey.

I intend to share The Grandest Love with my graduate students (in early care and education, mental health, and child welfare) to educate future social-work professionals about the power of honest intergenerational dialogue and discovery, the resilience generated by familial interdependence, and the healing that can come from making family relationships a priority.

I will also read it with my own grown children so that together we can create a sacred space to discuss what is truly important to us as a family, to “Teach-and-Learn” with each other, and to become genuinely intentional about the lasting benefits of our family traditions.

There is a saying: “To the world you may be only one person, but to one person you may be the world.” There are times in a grandchild’s life when we will very likely be their world. Jerry Witkovsky’s The grandest Love helps us to be ready for those powerful moments, to embrace them with joy, and to fill all the years in between with meaning, memories, and lessons that endure.

-JOAN MALTESE, Ph.D.

Clinical psychologist Joan Maltese is co-founder and executive director of the Child Development Institute in Woodland Hills, California; she has been inspired by young children and the adults who nurture them for over 35 years. She is also on the faculty of California State University at Northridge, where she facilitates the certificate program in Infant/Toddler Family Mental Health.

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