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A Grandletters pageIn times past, when families lived closer together and elders were an important part of family life, grandparents often shared in the excitement of childrearing. The first tooth, the first step, the first day of school - each was a tiny miracle to be cherished. Children felt a part of their grandparents' lives and were deeply affected by their loving care and attention.

Today there are changes in society and family life that can disrupt this important relationship between elders and children. Children may be separated from their grandparents by distance or by divorce. Social attitudes may quietly erode values that strengthen elder child relationships. The grandparent may think, Don't get involved-stay out of it. Childrearing is the parents' job, or I don't want to pressure them to let me visit--they have lives of their own to live. Hidden within these kinds of statements is an underlying belief that children and elders do not really need contact with each other or, if they do, elders are powerless to influence the lives of the younger generation. Somehow we have to begin to reestablish and support the vital connection between elders and children.

Our lives can be enriched by contact with people of all ages. Children have much to learn from their elders. For their part, elders can benefit from involvement with children by establishing a sense of connection with the younger generation and knowing they play an important role in their lives.

GRANDLETTERS was written by Charles A. Smith, Ph.D. and Gayla Geutsch and was designed to strengthen the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren who are separated by distance. The program can also be used by elders who adopt a child to be their grandchild. Children who have no natural grandparents may enjoy being a sort of pen pal to a special elder friend. The terms grandparent and grandchild as used here refer to a relationship, not heredity. By using the mail to share their thoughts, feelings and experiences, grandparents and grandchildren will draw closer together, learn from each other and build a reservoir of happy memories.

Ten letters are exchanged, each focusing on a special issue in the following order:

Affection and friendship
Family and heritage
Generosity and love
Responsibility and courage
Respect for elders
Honesty and commitment
Competition and justice
Conflict and violence
Sadness and grief

The issues were selected by a group of elders, parents and professionals for their importance to both elders and children.

By trying some of the suggested activities and exchanging letters describing your views and experiences related to the key topic, you and your grandchild will learn more about each other. You will gain the satisfaction of knowing that your ideas are being conveyed to a young, impressionable person. For their part, grandchildren will enjoy discovering more about you. Research shows that children who have a close relationship with their grandparents are less likely to have negative stereotypes of elders or fear of growing older.

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