Yesterday I took my 79-year-old friend to the hairdresser. We go out a couple of times a week, with occasional stops at the store to stock her refrigerator or at the drug store to pick up a prescription. Then we visit for a while when we get back and catch up on family news.

Sometimes I get her to tell me about her family history and I type while she talks so she’ll have a record of her life to pass on to her grandchildren. Later in the day, I’ll sit down with an 18-year-old friend to help her write a paper for her psychology class.

Let’s talk about why cross-generational relationships are one of the most important aspects of making friends as an adult.

 
 

Friends Across Generations

The 79-year-old is actually the mom of one of my best friends and the 18-year-old is the daughter of another. I’ve been helping the teenager with homework since she was a kid and I started giving my friend’s mom a hand when her husband died last year. My friend is still working and really needed someone to fill some of the gaps when her mom found herself alone.

When I tell other people about days like yesterday, they immediately say how lovely it is for me to help like this, but what they don’t realize is that I probably get more out of my time with these two than either of them.

Forming and maintaining relationships across generations is a good way to provide support in someone’s life, but it can also result in some great improvements to your own. Here are four things you can learn from cross-generational relationships.

Where the World is Headed

At our ages, most of us feel that we have a good sense of what’s going on in the world. We’ve had lots of experiences and we have settled on what we believe and what is important to us. But spending time with a teenager or young adult can broaden your view – if you let it. Not only will you learn about all of those features on your cell phone that you’ve been ignoring, but you’ll get a different view of the outside world, as well.

Since today’s high school students are learning how to write their own decisions on Supreme Court cases, and reading literature by authors from countries we didn’t even know existed when we were their age, it stands to reason they could teach us a thing or two if we’re open to it.

Making Friends as an Adult: What Lies Ahead of Us?

We all have some kind of sense of what it will feel like when we are even older than we are now, whether it’s positive or negative. Visiting with folks who are our seniors is enlightening and helpful. No doubt you’ll feel inspired when your 80-something neighbor tells you he’s still able to walk a mile every day.

On the other hand, when your elderly aunt talks to you about her loneliness, it can remind you to stay focused on interests and hobbies so your life doesn’t feel as empty when you reach her age. Our elders are further along on a path we’ll all travel. Their wisdom about the pitfalls and the wonders of that path is as useful now as it was when we were kids.

A Deeper Sense of Compassion

We’ve all driven behind someone who looks older than we are and who drives as slowly as they possibly can. It’s frustrating and we start thinking maybe this person shouldn’t even be driving anymore. Whether that’s true or not, spending time with someone older gives us a much keener idea – and a whole lot more compassion – about what they’re experiencing.

Losing one’s mobility and one’s freedom in the world is very tough. Many of us have that ahead of us, and knowing someone in that same boat can increase our sense of empathy. It might even help us to plan better and more creatively for how we will live down the line.

A Deeper Sense of Fun

Even if you don’t have grandchildren, playing with a small child or even silly teenagers can remind you that everything doesn’t have to be super-serious at all times. As a pretty basic introvert who tends to pride myself on “taking care of business,” playing and having fun rarely find themselves on my to-do list.

But when I let myself laugh with the 18-year-old and her friends, or even make silly faces at a baby in a restaurant, it reminds me that it’s really our human connections that matter more than anything else.

There are lots of other great reasons to hang around with people of different ages groups, but sometimes it takes a reminder to do it. Have a cup of tea with your older neighbor. Play basketball with your sister’s middle schooler. Make an offer to an overworked mom to babysit for an afternoon.

Take a friend’s dad on a drive through town. There’s something to learn each time we interact with another person. Why not branch out a little and let someone new teach you something?

Is making friends as an adult easier or harder than when you were younger? What would you like to learn from a member of the younger or older generation? What older or younger person do you know with whom you could spend a little time? What special gifts do you have to offer to someone older or younger? Please join the conversation.

Ginny McReynolds is a longtime writer. She holds an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Goucher College, and writes about communication, retirement, reinvention, self-concept and creativity in The Washington Post, Curve magazine, and Together.guide. Please visit her blog called Finally Time for This: A Beginner’s Guide to the Second Act of Life.

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