In Singapore, many of us do not use the word “family” in its most nuclear sense. When we think of “family” we think of our extended families and we think of what it means to live and grow together across 3 or sometimes even 4 generations.

However, each generation will always have its unique experiences, identity and way of relating to the world. As we try to relate to each other, we need to be aware of these generational gaps and make an effort to bridge them in order for us to sustain and grown the bonds we have. 

A Guide for Younger Persons

If you are a member of the 2nd or even the 3rd generation, you are probably experiencing many new freedoms and a sense of greater independence. You may be starting work, earning money and able to give support to your family. You will also be spending more time with your peers than with your immediate family and often, the changes that age brings to your family members will be clearer to you than they are to them. You will realise that you are now the stronger and more capable generation within your family and that you are beginning to fulfill your potential as an adult and as an individual. 

You will however, also be responsible for more. If elderly parents or grandparents come to live with you, you will need to adjust your lifestyle to take their needs into account. You may be married and have children of your own. You may have to wrestle with the difficulty in relating to your parents when you are ready to take on more leadership within the family, but they are unwilling or unable to let go. 

As a member of the younger generation, there are some things which you can do to relate better with older family members and to ease the transition in roles and lifestyle which ageing will have on them. 

Remember to Set aside Time for Older Family Members
Set aside time once a week or once a month to do something with older family members. Look for common interests which you may share, and think of new ways to discuss family matters. 

Realise Your Importance to Older People
Remember, to the older generation, you are very special. You carry their dreams for the future.

Older Family Members can be Your Best Friends
See them as a resource, with a lifetime of experiences. Be sensitive to their needs, but try to speak up on things that are important to you.

It can be Hard to Live Up to what Older People Expect of You
However old you get, you will always be a “child” to your parents and grandparents. This affects how they treat you. If they nag, it is because you are important to them. It’s easy to feel pressurized. Do the best you can, and try not to feel guilty over things that you cannot change. 

The Old have a lot to Share
Forget stereotypes, each “old” person is unique. Try to understand their world view and why they say the things they do. Their stories can help you to learn about your past, your culture and your family. Older people will continue to be a part of your world – the better you understand them the more you will gain. 

A Guide for Older Persons

As an older person who has to relate to younger adults, you might find it difficult to accept the changes which occur as you grow older. The death of a spouse and friends, the “loss” of your children as they move on in life and become adults, and even changes in your living arrangements can be overwhelming. It might be tempting to fight the changes and to try to turn back time, but that only makes the life changes which each of us has to go through only harder to deal with. Before change can be internalized and you can start to live an enjoy your old age, you need to accept that it needs to happen first. 

Think of the Long Term
Day to day family problems may spoil close family ties. Take a longer term view and act and respond in a way that you think will be the best for the future of the entire family. 

Don’t Be Afraid of Change
Our roles in the family change over time. We may have to depend on our children for emotional or financial support. Change is hard, but it helps if you can accept it. 

Take an Interest in the World
Friends are important. Build up a network outside the home. Try new hobbies, learn a new skill, or give time as a volunteer.

Try to be Honest and Open
Speak openly and honestly to your family members about matters which are important to you. Sometimes, hints don’t work, instead of feeling misunderstood and unimportant, understand that it is better to share what you really feel in an open and non-confrontational way. 

Focus on the Times and Things that the Family Agrees On
Enjoy family times like shared dinners or special holiday celebrations. Sometimes we need to look at conflicts from a new angle, and even make a small change to do our part to help solve matters. Talk about and do things the whole family enjoys.

Think about what Family Members Expect of Each Other
Your generation may have different expectations of family than those of your children’s generations. Try to understand and adapt to these changes.

Treat Family Members as Friends
We often treat our friends and strangers better than our family. Share ideas, hopes and problems with your family and listen to them too. Try to make joint family decisions – call for a family meeting. 

Let Younger Members of the Family Make Some Decisions for Themselves
No one likes to be told what to do. Our children are now adults and will make their own decisions. Share your ideas with them and then support their decisions.

Adapted from an article first published by the Tsao Foundation.