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Parenting Connection Across Generations

By Leann Shamash
Leann Shamash with grandchildren

When we say the word “grandmother” or “grandfather,” it can conjure up a swirl of strong images from our pasts. If we were fortunate enough to have loving grandparents in our lives, we recall them in so many ways — from the stories they told, to the food they cooked, to the clothes they wore, to the kisses they planted upon our foreheads.

Time has flown by and now we find ourselves grandparents! Grandparenting Through a Jewish Lens (GTJL) gave us the opportunity to ask ourselves whether we want to retain the same grandparenting model as our own grandparents, or whether we wish to reconsider what we can take in order to become more thoughtful and mindful grandmothers and grandfathers.

Our GTJL class was the perfect opportunity for a group of animated and thoughtful grandparents to sit around a table together at The Rashi School and consider together how to mindfully approach grandparenting today. We considered which of our own family stories we wish to share with our grandchildren and how to share them so our grandchildren will remember them. We had fascinating discussions of how we got to have the title of Bubby or a Nana or Grandpa or Grand-dude!  We learned that behind every name, whether it be the names bestowed upon us as a grandparent or the names of our children and grandchildren, there is a narrative that carries us backwards and forwards at the same time!

We used the rich tapestry of the Jewish holidays, which place so much importance on the home, to discuss how to respectfully share traditions with our grandchildren. Our class took place in Tishrei, the month of the High Holidays, Sukkoth and Simchat Torah.  It was to our advantage to have a weekly opportunity to practice the things that we talked about in our class. We tried writing our grandchildren special New Year’s updates where we took the time to let them know how much we value them and their accomplishments, whether they are two months or twenty years!

Torah texts from the High Holidays, such as the story of Abraham, Sarah and Isaac and Hagar and Ishmael lit the way to rich group reflections on the deep love and sacrifice that families make for one another. We explored the concepts of tzimtzum, making ourselves a bit smaller so that we allow our children to fill the space and raise their children. We appreciated the term Z’chut, or privilege, that being a grandparent affords.  We also explored how our roles fit into the web of extended family, varied traditions and the many variables that exist in our relationships with our grandchildren at this very complicated time.

As the facilitator of this wonderful group, I was moved by way that students recalled and reflected on their parents, grandparents, and the experiences of their childhood. This was a group, who when exploring this material, was able to search deep within themselves for the core of what is the most important to them as they continue to do this labor of deep love, which is grandparenting.

Leann Shamash is an instructor in Hebrew College’s Grandparenting Through a Jewish Lens community learning program.

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