Emotional Health · Family & Friends

A Grandmother’s Worries

Another new concern that many of our readers have written about is that the economic fortunes off the middle class have diminished. In fact, many of our children hold down two or three jobs per family in order to make ends meet. Grandparents, unable to retire themselves because of these factors, are being drafted for serious, regular babysitting rather than the occasional fun outing. Stretched thin themselves, these grandparents feel overwhelmed and unable to enjoy the kind of relaxed time with the kids that was possible in earlier generations.

As a grandmother myself, I know that children are one of the things that take the sting out of aging. Imagining that I have helped create a safe, nurturing environment for them to thrive and grow up into productive adults fulfills a lifelong wish. That dream, though, is increasingly clouded by worries that the world they are inheriting is full of problems that we have caused and that, worse, we are doing too little to address.

The environment is a global concern, requiring everyone to work together to reverse the negative effects of how we have been polluting and poisoning ourselves. The United States, one of the planet’s worst offenders, is threatening to pull out of the Paris agreements to do that work. As other nations have made progress on this issue, we are taking backwards steps.

There is a consensus among scientists that the intensity of recent extreme weather events, not just in the Caribbean and the southern U.S. but all over the world, is a direct result of climate change that we have brought on ourselves. This past summer there was a heat wave in Europe so severe that it was called “Lucifer,” and floods and fires were more frequent than usual all over the world.

While crime statistics have steadily improved in the past few decades, there is are new kinds of crimes that are meant to instill terror, and they do. Along with the political terrorism of ISIS and other rogue groups, there is the individual domestic terrorism of lone gunmen who use automatic weapons to randomly murder large numbers of people. Another such event has just occurred in Las Vegas, with the worst death toll to date.

After each of these events we wring our hands and send condolences, but little is done to address the root problems: the proliferation of available weapons and inadequate mental health care. Legislation in either of these areas would help, but in the past year steps have been taken to roll back gun restrictions and to provide even less money for public -health care.

What will become of our grandchildren if this continues? While I wrote of the fear children suffered during air raid drills, there are new kinds of drills already in practice for today’s kids. Touring a public school in Washington D.C., last week, I was told of how the kids have regular drills for “lockdown” procedures. They are taught how to huddle together in a corner for as much as 15 minutes at a time. The teachers lock the doors, and administers enact the part of assailants, banging on the doors, trying to fight their way in as the children cower.

What kind of effects does this kind of training have on young minds and psyches? How do you reassure kids that there are no monsters under the bed when they are being told they have to prepare because there may be one in their classroom one day?

I’m afraid our work as grandparents is not done. For us to have the peaceful satisfaction that we are leaving behind the best possible world, we have to keep fighting to promote ideas and leaders with responsible policies that will benefit the future, not just the present. Psychologist Erik Erikson wrote that at this stage of life we have a choice between “generativity,” meaning teaching and caring for those younger than we are, and “stagnation,” followed by the choice of “ego integrity” (feeling good about the lives we have led) vs. “despair” that our time is past and the future holds only decline for us. And surely if we leave our grandchildren a wasteland, we will have failed them.

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