As circumstances had it, I never had children even though giving birth is one of the greatest experiences a woman can have. It was not because I am anti-children, far from it! Being born in 1943, I grew up in an era where women were socialised from very young to believe that it was their sole role to get married and produce a family.
Having a busy corporate life, most of my friends were either colleagues whom I mixed with at work or friends who were similarly single, so except for my nieces and nephews who lived interstate, I met very few children or young people until my sixties. When I was in my thirties two of my nieces used to holiday with me for a few years running and we got on famously. Much later in life one of my nieces confided in me that she had always believed that I was her true mother and that I had given her up to my sister as I wanted a career! At first I was rather taken aback but quickly realised that she had felt comfortable in my company when she had stayed with me many years prior, and that it was a confirmation of my ability to connect deeply with children.
I finally married at 61, but by then any possibility of having children had long since passed me by! My husband was 51 when we married and like me, he had not been married before and had not fathered any children. However, at this stage in our life, we started to attend workshops where we met people of all ages and from all walks of life and we made many friends. Quite a few of our new friends had children and for the first time in my life I had an opportunity to have regular contact with young people of all ages and developed many friendships as well as being introduced to what it was like to look after a baby.
When I am with children it is almost as if I forget the age difference and treat them as I would any other person – with equality and respect.
When given the space to just be themselves and with no need to ‘perform’, young people have much wisdom and insights to share and many of my young friends share their wisdom with me as I do with them. This does not mean that there is no loving discipline should it be called for! It has been my experience that young children especially feel safe and loved when they have boundaries, but it is important that the boundaries are consistent.
A few years ago I was at a workshop where I was not able to participate in the practical sessions, so I asked a young girl whom I had met once or twice before, if she would like to go for a walk with me around the oval. We walked together and chatted for about half an hour and then returned to the workshop. The next day I had a surprise email from her mother to tell me that the evening before her daughter had said “that girl that I walked with today was really nice!” So, despite the more than sixty years age gap she did not see me as an old or older woman, but as a ‘girl’ just as she was!
As elders this is what we can bring to the young people in our lives – just accepting them for who they are and meeting them in equality and with love.
Giving any person young or old, the space to just be themselves without any pressure to ‘perform’, allows others to discover the real ‘Me’, and not the false ‘me’ that from an early age we learn to don for society so that we fit in and do what is expected of us rather than what we are naturally impulsed to do.
As Elders we have a wealth of lived experience and it is our responsibility to share this when and where appropriate, lovingly so!
Anne McR., Australia
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