Bridging the Generations


Karen & Ron Flowers
Directors, Department of Family
Ministries, General Conference

Theme: Grandparents and parents can improve their relationships by showing respect for each other, focusing on each other’s strengths and working to resolve issues surrounding the role of the older generation in the life of the younger family.
How to Use These Resources: These resources may be duplicated and distributed for use by individuals and families at home, classes and seminars, or support groups. In some cases it may be appropriate to gather parents only, in others, grandparents only. In still others, both parents and grandparents may benefit from meeting together. A special multigenerational program could bring three generations together. In situations where grandparents and parents are not available to attend together, “superfamilies” of parents and grandparents may be formed at random. Though not naturally related, the results of the learning experience derived in the mixed groups will carry over to the natural relationships. Families could also be encouraged to share with members across the miles by letter or by phone.


Handout #1 Our Family Tree

Handout #2 Let’s Make A Memory

Handout #3 When A Grandchild Visits


The gospel of Christ, as it is received in the mind and heart of a parent or grandparent, ushers in a healthy respect for oneself and one’s child and one’s grandchild. Christ is honored as parents and grandparents approach their relationships with one another and with the children in their families with attitudes which reflect the impact of the gospel upon their hearts. The following resource is designed to provide information and a process for growth in relationships between the generations.

Getting Acquainted Icebreaker

Invite parents to introduce their parents to the group (or have a member of the younger generation introduce the elder member). Invite grandparents to show photographs or tell an interesting ancedote about their grandchildren.

Parent/Grandparent Concerns

Poll the group to discover major areas of interest and concern about intergenerational relationships. Parents and grandparents will have items to add to the list. You may wish to use the following list as a starter and have the group add to it.

Parent/Grandparent Concerns List:

  • Communication and listening between the generations.
  • How the different generations can show respect for each other.
  • Visitation with grandchildren-frequency, duration, ground rules.
  • How to handle differences of opinion about childrearing-discipline, etc.
  • Dealing with favoritism.
  • Appropriate/inappropriate involvement of grandparents in the lives of children/grandchildren and vice versa.
  • What it means to “leave father and mother” and yet “honor father and mother.”
  • Alleviating the stress felt by the “sandwich generation” (those who feel responsible for the care both of their children and their parents).
  • Making decisions about care of the elderly.

Small Group Guidelines

When there is the intention to have small group discussion, invite the group to commit themselves to the following guidelines:

Speak for yourself. Share your own feelings. Do not assume you know how another person feels.

Share voluntarily. No one should feel pressured to share. Silence is respected.

Respect the sacred circle around the family. Avoid sharing in the presence of the group aspects of family relationships which would make any family member uncomfortable.

Maintain confidences. Anything that is said in the meeting is not to be shared with others who were not a part of the support setting.

Part 1: A Bible Reflection on a Three-Generation Household

Read 2 Timothy 1:15. Unfolding the intergenerational family dynamics implied in this verse could form the nucleus for several meetings, each with a different focus.

Life under one roof. Discuss what you think it was like for the three generations-grandmother Lois, mother Eunice, and child Timothy-to be a household together. What strengths are to be found in such an arrangement? What might some of the difficulties be? How do you resolve the challenges of different schedules, different habits, the needs for individual personal space?

Conveying values across generations. Paul pays a high compliment to Grandmother Lois when he speaks of her sincere faith, a faith which was espoused by three generations. How does the transmission of faith take place in families? What emotional and spiritual qualities in Lois would increase the likelihood that her faith would be adopted by her daughter and grandson? What attitude should a grandparent take toward children/grandchildren who have not espoused the grandparent’s values?

Living with unbelievers; living with loss. References to Timothy’s grandfather and father are absent in Paul’s comment about Timothy’s family. This may be because they were not Christian, or they may not have been alive. The fact that Timothy was not circumcised (Acts 16:1-3) may imply that his father was a non-Jewish man antagonistic to the things of the Lord. What challenges to the passing of one’s faith are present when a spouse is not a Christian believer? How might Lois support her adult daughter Eunice whose spouse is not a Christian? What kind of support might a parent provide to an adult child and his/her children whose spouse has passed away?

Part 2: Building Intergenerational Strengths

As grandparents age and their tangible contributions to community and family diminish, there may be a tendency for them to feel less valuable or even unwanted. To the extent that a society is youth-oriented, older people may be labeled as unproductive, or the physical changes associated with normal aging may be exaggerated. The younger should look for the positive in their elders, to reassure and reinforce their sense of comptence. An important part of respecting our elders is focusing on their strengths and abilities and the contributions they can make from the vantage point of their wisdom and experience. Lifelong experiences can increase humour, insight and an understanding of the grand scheme of things. It can enable older people to be expert counsellors, mediators, keepers of the lineage, writers, storytellers and managers. Many are reservoirs of historical facts and stories, especially about the family. (United Nations Occasional Papers Series, No. 4, p. 5)

The ideas which follow offer an opportunity to affirm grandparents and also to strengthen family bonds through understanding the family’s life and story.

Family genealogy. A great deal of understanding can come to a family through the setting out of its genealogical history over several generations. Grandparents are often an invaluable resource in finding such information. Parents and grandparents can begin to explore their family “roots” or “tree” using a chart such as Handout #1 . This or a similar format can be enlarged to provide space for interesting facts and comments about various family members. Caution : Families can be a source of great delight and healthy pride or they can be a source of pain and discouragement. Thus it should be explained that the construction of a family genealogy may be painful in part. It may be too painful for some. However, families should be encouraged that each individual ultimately bears responsibility for his own actions and emotions. Troubles in families in past generations can help us understand our own struggles, but choices made in the past need not determine or continue to influence current generations.

Story listening. An important dimension of the relationship with grandparents is the stories that they have to tell. The telling of these stories can be informative about family history and about the development and maintenance of faith across time. They will also offer insights into the life and personality of the teller that will encourage deeper bonding across the generations. You may wish to use a tape recorder or take handwritten notes of a conversation with one or both of your grandparents or a grandparent in your “superfamily” group.

Part 3: Leaving Father and Mother

Read Genesis 2:24; Exodus 20:12. These two verses taken together describe the balance between “leave” and “honor” which is to characterize the relationship of an adult child with his or her parents. “Leave” implies separation, a differentiation on the part of the younger generation and a “letting go” on the part of the older generation. “Honor” implies a continuing relationship, a proper respect shown by the younger generation toward the older generation who have fulfilled their responsibility as godly parents.

The following quotations refer to the process of separation by an adult child from parents. Read the quotations, then discuss them.

There can be no marriage without leaving. . . . Leaving is the price of happiness. There must be a clean and clear cut. . . . Real leaving and real letting go-not only outwardly, but also inwardly-is difficult for everyone. (Trobisch, 1971, pp. 12, 13, 15)

These words [ leave his father and his mother ] do not recommend a forsaking of filial duty and respect toward father and mother, but refer primarily to the fact that a man’s wife is to be first in his affections and that his first duty is toward her. His love for her is to exceed, though certainly not to supersede, a very proper love for his parents. ( Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary , vol. 1, p. 227)

The way in which the young adult leaves determines whether he or she takes a responsive (choosing) position or a reactive (obligated) position in relation to the family. With an effective launching, young adults can return home by choice rather than feeling obligated to be there out of a sense of guilt. (Brown and Christensen, 1986, p. 34)

Discussion possibilities. A possible lead-in question for a whole group discussion might be, “What was particularly meaningful or interesting to you in these quotations?” Other questions to prompt discussion: How does one “leave,” yet “honor” parents? How can this separation process take place adequately without sacrificing the honor due to parents? In what way must the honored parents respect their adult offspring? To what extent does the separation process continue to have an effect on relationships throughout life?

If extended families are in attendance together, an optional approach would be to give time for writing brief responses to the following statements and then invite pairs of grandparents and parents to talk together. When family members are not present, the writing could be done and the responses shared later with their family members.

Grandparents to parents:

Feelings I had as you became an adult and I let you go . . .

I feel honored when . . .

Things about our relationship which are very good . . .

Things about our relationship which are pretty good, but could be improved . . .

Things I can do to improve our relationship. . .

Parents to grandparents:

Feelings I had as I matured and shouldered adult responsibilities . . .

I feel respected by you when . . .

Things about our relationship which are very good . . .

Things about our relationship which are pretty good, but could be improved . . .

Things I can do to improve our relationship. . .

Other Helps and Ideas:

Student/senior citizen supper forums . Food to eat, although important, is not as important as the food for thought shared, understanding gained, and bridges between generations built as younger and older come together several times a year in what has become a very popular Youth-in-Action program-the Student/Senior Citizen Supper Forums. Youth-in-Action is a community program in Hanover, New Hampshire, that facilitates high school age students making a difference by volunteering their time in service to others. The Supper Forums is a simple idea. Teenagers and senior citizens are invited to share a light supper, and to share ideas on a predetermined topic chosen because of its interest to both groups. . . . Always there are relationships improved and frequently lasting friendships blossom, even between people “scared stiff” of each other prior to these interchanges. (Parenting for Peace & Justice Network Newsletter, No. 51, p. 6)

Discussion questions for parenting our parents support groups

How do you honor a parent’s individuality as their dependence on others is increasing?

How do you and your family handle the increasing mutual responsibility, given the fact that your parent(s) are now dependent on you?

Grandparents speak to children and grandchildren

We want-and need-emotional more than financial support.

We want involvement, participation, communication.

We want to continue sharing our lives with you, and we would like you to share your lives with us.

We want-so long as it is financially and physically possible-to maintain our independence.

(Source: American Association of Retired Persons).

Tapping into the long-distance grandparent resource

Exchange cassette tapes between grandparents and grandchildren to keep each other up-to-date on life events.

Younger children will enjoy a short bedtime story by phone with the grandparents.

Clip articles/pictures from magazines and send short notes back and forth telling what you think about the articles/pictures.

Children often need adults other than their parents to talk to. Give grandparents permission to counsel with your children and then provide times for the children to visit alone with them so they will have opportunity to talk.

(Source: Adapted from Dads and Moms , September, 1984).


Young man, you renegade, you rebel brash,

Flaunting all your “with it” trash,

Hot rodder, upstart, novice, hood,

Disrupter of what’s decent, good;

Contain your nonsense, keep your scorn;

I knew what’s true ere you were born.

Antiquated one, I beg you, please,

Keep your views, your Parkinson’s disease.

That varicose philosophy you won’t renege

Is quite uncool; I cannot dig.

Your rancid knowledge-I don’t need it;

Your stale advice-I’ll never heed it.

Aged sir, you once were daring, brash-remember?

You too passed March and June before December.

Turn up your hearing aid, or you may never learn:

Sans youth the globe would someday cease to turn.

And you, young fellow, will grow older every day;

Eventually you’ll turn thirty-what dismay!

That ancient one is you, come 19,000 days,

And kindliness, remember, often ricochets.

You, snow-on-the-roof type (please don’t be offended),

And you, green sap-filled stick (no inference intended),

Come both, be reconciled, to all men be a brother;

As bow to arrow, “useless each without the other.”*

Source: Poem by Richard H. Utt. Reprinted from Insight , January 10, 1978. Used by permission. *Phrase from Longfellow’s Hiawatha.

Concerns in Intergenerational Relationships

Preserving independence. Older adults typically cherish their independence. Likewise, most adult children desire independence for their parents, partially because parental independence may also to some degree free the adult child.

Communication. While lifelong patterns of communication tend to endure into aging, families that successfully adapt to aging have typically succeeded in sharing individual and mutual concerns. Communication failures that do occur may stem from the fact that adult children often have the best understanding of their parent’s physical needs and the least understanding of their social concerns, particularly loneliness. Differences in generational values and lifestyle also complicate communication.

Adapting to constant change. With aging family relationships, problems and resources are in almost constant flux. A change in one aspect of life such as housing, will very likely start a “chain reaction” of changes in social, psychological, or physical wellbeing. Once the fact of constant change is accepted, families are freer to choose appropriate solutions to existing difficulties, acknowledging that the future will bring more change and, hopefully, more appropriate solutions.

Changing roles. The older parent must come to see the adult child as an adult with his or her own life and responsibilities. Moving from the rebellion and emancipation of adolescence and young adulthood, the adult child must face the parent as a mature adult with a new and different role.

Balancing loyalties and responsibilities. Daughters and sons in middle age as well as newly retired people with aging parents face the dilemmas of conflicting desires, needs, and responsibilities. While advocates call for more family support of the aged, an “old person centered” view of the aging family may not be realistic or beneficial to the total family. The needs and desires of each generation must be considered and balanced.

Knowledge of resources. Families must know their own internal strengths, both material and not, with which they face aging. Knowledge of and access to community resources, including services, are also essential parts of the family’s resource storehouse. (Source: Exerpted and adapted from Clara Collette Pratt speech before Adult Education Association Annual Meeting, October 25, 1978, Portland, Oregon).


Brown, J. H., & Christensen, D. N. (1986). Family Therapy . Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole Publishing Company.

Dads and Moms: News and Creative Ideas for Healthy Family Living . September, 1984. Paul Lewis, 3409 Highway 79, Julian, CA 92036.

“Older Persons in the Family: Facets of Empowerment,” Occasional Papers Series, No. 4. (1993) Vienna: United Nations.

Parenting for Peace and Justice Network Newsletter, No. 51, October, 1991. Institute for Peace and Justice, 4144 Lindell Blvd., Rm. 122, St. Louis, MO 63108.

Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary , vol. 1. (1978). Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association.

Trobisch, W. (1971). I Married You . New York: Harper & Row Publishers.

Reprinted from Karen & Ron Flowers, Family Seasons. Silver Spring, MD: Department of Family Ministries, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 1996.