Grandmothers and grandfathers from twelve European countries attended a workshop held at the end of May 2012 in Prague, Czech Republic, organized by APERIO-Healthy Parenting Association. The program was financed by a Grundtvig grant which supports lifelong learning.
18 grandparents with average age of 65, from Italy, Greece, Poland, France, Spain, Hungary, Bulgaria, Finland, Sweden, Slovenia, Belgium and the Czech Republic spent a week in Prague, exploring and discussing the issues of grandparenting in today´s world. They discussed the role of a grandparent in child´s development, in a family, community and society. They talked about the life of seniors in today's Europe? and about active aging, they experienced art and computer workshops, they joined happenings, they also saw a film, sang, danced and had a lot of fun together.
How was it day after day?
The first morning session was led by a journalist and a family relationship counselor with whom the participants discussed the issues of upbringing today. To what extent does the post-modern society offers protection and support of the basic needs of childhood? And how can grandparents help? These and other questions were raised and talked over. In an interactive seminar the importance of early childhood and grandparents' role was emphasized. Participants were also asked to think about their own needs and the needs of their grandchildren.
In the afternoon a psychologist brought up the topic of relationships between parents and grandparents. The lecturer addressed questions, such as: How is your role different from a parental role? How is the role of grandparents different in various cultures? How do we as grandparents draw on positive or negative experiences in past relationships with our own grandparents? What can we learn from our grandchildren? And here are some of the participants' comments on this session. "It was interesting to recall some memories of my own grandparents from my childhood." "I realized how to change a relationship with my own child who became a parent." "It made me reflect on my past to improve the future relationships in family field".
In the evening, the participants had an opportunity to watch a great Czech film "Autumn Spring" by Vladimir Michalek.
The second day, an excursion to the Elpida Center in Prague took place, an NGO that has a goal "to help older people to become self-evident, self-confident and respected part of society". It serves as a center for education and social activities and it is moreover a meeting point for active seniors in Prague. They run many interesting projects, such as ´Vital plus´ (popular magazine for the elderly in the Czech Republic), ´Let´s talk about ageing: Respect my granny!´ (long-term campaign that aims to change the perception of older persons in society, recently in form of the concerts of indie-rock band Please The Trees and the senior choir Elpida), ´Senior Line´ (free helpline, hotline and crisis intervention service for seniors and persons taking care about elderly).
Our „European grandparents" learned there new IT skills in a workshop especially tailored to their knowledge and needs, and afterwards they sprayed their portraits on the wall outside the centre, thus joining the street art project ´The Wall – 537 Faces´. In the evening they came back to the hotel by a minibus where a professional guide told them about history and important monuments of Prague.
On Wednesday morning participants listened to a short concert of two children playing accordion and saxophone, as a small reminder of the up-coming International Day of Children.
The workshop that followed was led by a psychologist and focused on relationships in quiet and turbulent times of families. People together reflected how current families work – what supports the contacts and relations and what makes it worse. They dealt with the theme of support given by grandparents to the family and vice versa. Later they focused on critical events in the family life: they spoke about the role of the grandparents for the children in times when their family is affected by divorce, serious illness, family bankruptcy or another critical event. The lecturer pointed out the basic principles how to help especially children to survive such events.
Thursday workshop was called The Adventure of Family History. It was led by a professional genealogist and was devoted to the topic of genealogy and family trees. At first everybody learned ´genealogy basics´: historical development of European family, development of names, systems of ancestry arrangements etc., and later they got a practical advice on how to start making their own family trees (family archive, gathering facts, searching for elder generations, visiting public registers and archives, internet sources, genealogical marks, etc.)
In the second part participants actually created their own family trees, using the data and photos they brought from their home countries. In the evening some people presented their family trees to others. They also shared stories of one of their ancestors that they had prepared as homework before coming to Prague. The whole day was very creative, the atmosphere was great and some comments and stories were really moving. Here are some of impressions:
„It was great to see on one paper the facts that I already knew, but to see it all together gave me another point of view. I discovered interesting similarities. It was also interesting to hear other family stories and traditions. And the ancestors' stories were very touching."
„I now look at myself as a member of a long row of ancestors... I am happy that I have created my family tree for my grandchildren.... I will put it on the wall and will talk about it with my grandchildren."
The last day of the workshop was started by a dynamic and interesting lecture of a gerontologist. She touched various topics – seniors in today´s society, generations living together, myths about old age, seniors in the community and health of seniors. She also reflected her rich experience with seniors both in Czech society and abroad. Our participants shared information about interesting projects that involve seniors in their countries (volunteering in hospices, helping children on street crossings, at schools or with homework, doing „clowns" in children´s hospitals, reading stories to children in libraries, etc.). An interesting topic of ´adoptive grandparenting´ was also brought up.
Then a small happening took place when everyone wrote down the names and ages of their grandchildren on pieces of paper that were put on a wall. With a cake and a song we all together celebrated the International Day of Children, wishing peace and happiness not only to our children and grandchildren, but to all children on the planet.
In the afternoon two creative workshops followed, led by a professional academic painter, art therapist and tai-chi instructor. They were based on methods of experimental learning and were focused on strengthening relationships between generations. Both exercises can serve as an inspiration for spending meaningful time with grandchildren. The first one was called "A conscious mark of motion". This method is intended for building up graphomotorics of pre-school children, using elements from the traditional art of tai-chi. Our grandmothers and grandfathers actively took part in this playful exercise and seemed to enjoy it. They experienced both elements from tai-chi and painting the conscious marks of body motions on the big size of papers. Terra Incognita was the name of the second part of the workshop, when participants created joint work by using ceramic clay. This is a significant art therapy method with a lot of symbolic meanings, discovering characteristics of generations. And again, people seemed to enjoy it a lot. As one of them said – it was funny for grandparents to take up the role of young children!
The last evening was a farewell time. Everybody received a certificate, people thanked and gave each other messages and wishes for future, they sang and danced ..., and it was hard to say goodbye the next morning.
Hopefully all these nice and courageous grandparents gained not only new knowledge and inspiration, but also new relationships with people of similar age and the same role.
Here are some quotations from evaluation forms:
- It made me think more about the importance of the very early childhood.
- I got a good advice and knowledge of how to deal with difficult situations in a family.
- The workshop showed me how to improve relationships between generations, using exercises as an inspiration to spend time with grandchildren.
- I have many new ideas about behavior of the grandparents and grandchildren now.
- I will now advocate for more intergenerational connection and communication.
- The whole meeting was fantastic, „once in a life time"event. I am really grateful that I had a chance to be here, think about grandparenting in the way I have not earlier thought – it gave me theory and knowledge. Also, I met lovely people who share the same opinion of age and life.
- We all live with more or less same or similar challenges, and culture differences don´t make a big change. We learned a lot from each other and about each other.
- The most important take-home message for me is that it is very useful to tell the family stories from time to time to younger generations.
- I think this workshop will affect me and my grandchildren´s life a lot!
- I learned that problems of grandparenting are almost the same everywhere and we can help each other in Europe.
Lucie Ryntova, APERIO, Czech Republic, August 2012
The workshop was supported by Lifelong Learning Programme, Grundtvig.
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