In his book, Why Gender Matters, Dr. Leonard Sax proposes that cultural values transmit best in same gender, cross-generational groups. Think: women washing dishes after the huge family dinner or men coming in from plowing or harvesting, tending the horses, unloading the bales of hay. Even fishing together.
And yet, many factors in today’s society have conspired to give our kids less and less time in same gender, cross-generational groups. In fact, kids often have little time with anyone outside their peer group. Even when we can get there, we often feel stymied about how to really help our kids benefit. If we ask grand dad or great uncle to tell his stories, he may feel confused. What do we want him to say, he asks. My life hasn’t been anything special, he’ll reply.
Happily, Bob Greene in his book, To Our Children’s Children, gives us some ideas on how we might proceed, whether we’re a kid interviewing our grandmother or a grandfather looking to enjoy some chatting time while fishing. It’s important to keep in mind that such conversation should be enjoyable. Further, story telling, life-sharing, is an ancient tradition, literally the way knowledge about life and history and what is important has been passed down for all humankind. It could begin with a question like:
Who is someone from your early life who you admired, who taught you something important, who served as a role model for what you wanted to become?
Who was your best friend when you were my age and what did you like to do together?
How did you get your first job? What was your first day of work like?
Describe what you would do on a summer day when you were a girl.
What was your favorite food and how was it prepared, by whom?
How did World War II (Viet Nam, The Great Depression, Kennedy’s
assassination) impact your life, change your life? What important lesson did it teach you?
Tell me about something you’re glad someone taught you. Tell me about that person too.
What was your school like? How did you get there? Who was your favorite teacher? How have things in schools improved/declined since then?
You get the gist. Questions should be “soft balls,” lightly tossed, easy to hit. (A hard ball might be something like, tell me about a time you got in trouble, a friend of yours who died, someone you knew who had an unplanned pregnancy) Questions should be asked in such a way that it is impossible to answer yes/no. Think about questions which relate to family members, school, holiday traditions, houses/neighborhoods, entertainment, romance, favorites, etc. Setting a regular “date” when such conversations might be possible can be good. Also it’s fun to ask such questions when several older people are together. My son asked my mother and her three friends (all over 80 years old) what their favorite decade of fashion was. Oh, the giggles and remembrances. Best of all, he and I caught glimpses of darling young women, flirting, primping, fretting, beneath the outer, aging appearances of women we loved.
So, culture and values are best conveyed by slow, gentle, fun interchange. But it only works if you create time and space for it to happen.