Solo Agers & Intergenerational Connection
Definition: A Solo Ager is a person or couple without adult children to rely on for assistance or support in the event of an emergency, a prolonged illness, or living a long life that may eventually require help.
Solo Agers, by definition, do not have children, so they don’t have grandchildren or great-grandchildren either. For some, this presents a loss; for others, not as much. If, however, you miss children - or young adults - in your life, read on!
Intergenerational connection is one of my favorite subjects. It might be because I had close relationships with my older relatives as a child; I was drawn to older adults at a very young age (hence my life’s work!), and I went out of my way to engage with both older family members and others whose paths crossed mine.
I remember in graduate school, I was writing a paper on this very subject and found a study where (I paraphrase) several kindergarten classes were interviewed, and the children were asked questions about how they felt about older adults. Regrettably, the researchers found the responses were largely negative. Words such as “old,” “wrinkled,” “sick,” “mean, “crabby,” etc. were overwhelmingly the norm. I was appalled. How could this be true? And then, I read on and learned how this is just one example of how age segregation is harmful to society. When children lack exposure to older adults and the aging process, they learn to fear aging ~ both their own and others’. Many children don’t live near their grandparents, so their exposure to older adults is limited perhaps to one or two visits per year. Thank goodness for FaceTime and other apps that have certainly helped with this.
The bottom line is intermingling children and older adults is a win-win-win, and for Solo Agers who miss this sort of connection, it is imperative. Here are some ways for Solo Agers (or anyone!) to overtly engage with children or young adults in a meaningful way:
- One of the most obvious ways to connect with children is to get to know their parents. Are you in a neighborhood where young families have moved in? Do you see a parent and child walk their dog by your house? If so, how about seeing if the dog can have a treat as a way to start a conversation? Once you have established a relationship with the family, perhaps the child can visit you, and you can play games together. I talk about this in For the Love of Elders blog, where I connected my young daughter with an older adult while I was in night school and how they ate pizza and played scrabble together while I was in class. My daughter remembers “Anita” to this day.
- Start a children’s book club where you live.
- Volunteer at an elementary school.
- Teach at your place of worship during services.
- If reading is something you enjoy, there are various volunteer opportunities such as https://readtoachild.org/about-us/ or https://www.aarp.org/experience-corps/experience-corps-volunteer/
Aside from fighting against isolation and loneliness that some experience, engaging with children will ultimately push back against ageism and ageist behaviors. No matter what our age, we can learn from one another and make the world a better place in the process.