Bridging the Generational Gap: The Importance of Sharing & Cherishing Family Stories
In honor of my grandma's birthday coming up this week, I wanted to share an important part of our relationship that is especially important now that she's one year wiser: bridging the generational gap, and sharing and learning our family stories.
Here's a little collage of my grandma for you all!! An icon.
The women in my family have always been my role models. My great-grandmother raised seven daughters alone while her husband was away at war, and lost her only son when he was 3 years old.
My grandmother paved her own way as a middle school teacher back when it still wasn’t the norm for women to have jobs.
My mother immigrated to a new country with my dad, with little but their hopes and aspirations for a better life for themselves and their children.
These women have carved me into the person that I am today, inspired me to make space for myself and fearlessly blaze my own path as an Asian American woman.
But nonetheless, my relationships with them are far from simple.
I have noticed recently an increasing generational gap between the older and younger generations, where it has become more and more difficult for many of us to communicate with generations previous to our own. As society advanced alongside technology, the generational divides between us seem to have exponentially expanded, to the point where it sometimes even feels like my grandma and I grew up in two completely different worlds.
When we have divides this big, it can feel daunting and even difficult to reach out and try to connect to other generations of your family. I’m right there with you too - sometimes, it’s still scary to confide things in or ask about things to my grandma because I’m not sure how she’ll react.
But what we can do as sons or daughters, fathers or mothers, grandpas or grandmas, is seek to understand, then to be understood. Start conversations with each other, expand our comfort zones and try not to be afraid to open up and lean on each other.
I believe it to be absolutely essential for us to communicate, to share our stories, and to be willing to listen. There are stories that my grandma has told me that she didn’t ever tell others, and it’s crazy to think that if I hadn’t asked, or showed to her that despite my subpar Chinese, I was willing to listen, they might never have been heard, and just vanished as she sealed them away in her mind.
But at the same time, I know that even just starting a conversation is very difficult sometimes. It’s tough to bridge the generational gap, especially when that gap comes with a language gap or a culture gap.
So to begin, it’s always OK to start off small. Whether it’s gardening together, or watching TV together, something low risk where you don’t necessarily have to speak can be a great way to form a bond and start to understand each other. For me, although my grandma has taken care of me, and practically raised me, since I was a baby, deepening, our relationship was still really difficult. In order to gain her trust and show her that I cared about her stories, I would go on nightly walks with her whenever I had the time, and we were just have conversations about anything from what we cooked for dinner that night to what her plans were for tomorrow. And in the simple conversations, I learned more about my grandma than I did, in many many years knowing her. She opened up about her childhood, her upbringing, and even some of the difficult times that she faced when she was a young woman. Now, I see her even more for who she truly is: a fearless and brave trailblazer, who always believed in the power of knowledge.
My grandma, who is a teacher for most of her life, even shared some of her experiences with particularly difficult students with me. And although we laughed together, reminiscing on those experiences, I gained so much respect for teaching as a profession. It’s definitely not easy, and I never would’ve imagined how much effort goes into it.
Some moral of the story truly is to take advantage of all of the stories that your family has, and not to let them vanish into a thin air. I hope that I can carry on my great-grandma’s and my grandma’s stories, and tell them to my kids as a way to share what it was like to live in China in historically changing times. And I want all of you to think ahead as well, and think about how precious some of the stories could be, if you get the chance to hear them.
So don’t be daunted to ask difficult questions, to sit down and have conversations about politics or society or philosophy. Even if your opinions differ on something (and trust me, my grandma and I don’t agree on everything), you can still have a respectful conversation and learn about each other in a constructive way.
In a time where many stories are getting lost, or purposefully being erased by oppressive forces, I encourage you all to cherish the ones that are closest to you, the ones that created you and came before you.
Learn the stories of your ancestors and your family, because those stories will eventually become yours to remember and pass down!!
If you want more help with how to start conversations with family around their stories in a safe and healthy way, check out this website Youth Against Hate coalition members developed, with resources created by youth, for youth. It include conversation starters, testimonials, card games and more!!
And as always, I write this