An almost universal concern for the women that come to see me is the challenge involved in relating across generational boundaries within the family. These challenges include relating to young children, adult children, grandchildren, older or elderly parents and members of the extended family in many different life stages. The perspective of each generation is idiosyncratic and rooted in that generation’s cultural, economic and political circumstances, both past and present. There is also a “culture” specific to each family and this family culture changes and evolves from generation to generation. Add to that individual personalities, circumstances, and lifestyles and you have a diverse and bewildering range of perspectives to navigate in family relationships.
Many of us in the mature, older generations have the benefit (or sometimes the disadvantage) of having lived through many of the other generational stages. We have been children, adolescents, young adults, perhaps parents or grandparents, and all of us have occupied other roles both within and outside the family. We can understand and relate to some of the issues, concerns, and perspectives of the younger generations.
It is probably more difficult for members one or two generations younger than we are to relate to and understand many of our perspectives and concerns. Being older is viewed as distant and rather irrelevant to younger people’s lives—at least until they get there. There are many challenges connected to relating across generational divides. Many of them have to do with our expectations of younger and older members of our families and our attempts to understand family members who may seem almost like they are from other planets.
Conflicts between members of different generations within the family almost always arise from lack of communication, lack of understanding and difficulty accepting the validity of each person’s differing perspective and priorities. Lack of understanding and attitudes of judgment around these differences lead to conflict. Let’s discuss strategies for improving our relationships with members of our families spanning different generations.
- What is your experience of relating to family members of different generations? What generations do you find it most difficult to relate to and easiest to relate to?
- What life perspectives do you find the hardest to understand in another generation?
- Talk about your level of judgment and/or acceptance of perspectives other than your own within your family? Do you tend to be more judging or more accepting?
- What do you most wish younger or older members of your family to understand and accept you and your generation?
- Are there specific cross-generational family relationships that you are trying to improve? What are some of the ways you might be able to improve these relationships?