When You Live Alone


Seeking family connections when you live alone


At 89 years old, I found myself thinking with pride the other day about how amazing the experience and intellectual power of my extended family is. What a wealth of knowledge we are collectively.

From them, I have learned about worlds far from mine.

There was a time when I might have learned of my family’s interests and dreams while we were sitting around the dinner table. I’ve always advocated for a culture of teaching and learning from one another, with knowledge and ideas spreading in multiple directions during our lively conversations that came naturally as were together in our day-to-day lives.

But today, I live alone.

No longer part of an immediate family, for teaching and learning to continue, we must seek it out across our extended family. We must make a concerted effort to connect and engage in a meaningful, purposeful way.

Learning and teaching has to be deliberate

My son Michael, who recently became a grandpa himself, has always disagreed with my belief in the need for a conscientious approach to promoting learning and teaching among members in our extended family. He believes it happens organically.

“We are constantly patrons in the library of living,” he recently wrote to me. “What we don’t always have is the company of others in that process, the permission from authorities and experts to learn, the encouragement to demonstrate those assets we have.”

I find his commentary interesting.  He points out that while we learn all the time, we may not “have the company of others in that process,” or someone to give “encouragement to demonstrate those assets we have.” Hmmm…those two missing items sound very similar to what I propose as integral to a culture of learning and teaching.

But how do I help him enter my world, to see that I am alone unless we seek each other out?

aloneTime and distance can get in the way of natural, ongoing connection. Our family is spread across the country, literally, from New York to Los Angeles. My adult children are still driven by robust careers that keep them busy. My grandchildren range in age from teens to young adults, with one himself now a father of an eight-month-old boy, my first great-grandson.

But how do I help him enter my world, to see that I am alone unless we seek each other out?

I realize they all are busy–emotionally, mentally and physically–developing or managing their careers.  At the same time, the connection with my grandchildren and my adult children is critical to my mental health. I must let them know that so they understand my world.

Shifting the paradigm to enter each other’s world

What if we, the grandparents, shook up the answer to the rote question, “How are you?” when we answered the phone. What if, rather than the expected, “Why haven’t you called,” “I’m fine,” etc., we responded with a conversation opener?

“What’s the most interesting new thing you learned this week?” I could ask. The answer might give me new ideas and expand my mind while also shedding light on my loved one’s world.

Even if your family hasn’t grown up in a teaching and learning culture, it is never too late to make a change. Especially when you “own” the change. When you as a grandparent change what you are doing, the world around you will change in response.

Here are two ideas that can shake up your family relationship dynamics and open the door to deeper connections.

Leave judgment at the door

Of course, we have opinions and it’s hard to break the old pattern of embracing everything as a teaching moment. But as our children and grandchildren age and become adults…well, they have the right to their own opinions, even if we don’t agree.

How can we control the knee-jerk reaction to respond or express doubt? Ask more questions. “Tell me more about that.” “I have some experience in that area, would you like my opinion?” Or, you may have to just agree to disagree. And also refrain from saying “I told you so” when they finally realize the nose piercing was not a good idea. (But it is okay to commiserate and get sympathy and advice from your weekly coffee klatch!)

You may mean well by asking about your adult child’s finances. But they may interpret it as you doubting them. Know that you raised them well and now they are responsible for their decisions.

Own Your Own Feelings

Ask for what you need. Own your feelings. Don’t be afraid to “need.” We can inadvertently put ourselves in a catch-22. With our US cultural emphasis on individualism, we may not express ourselves and our needs, not wanting to impose on the other. But silently we think they should simply know what we need.  But no one can read your mind. If you want your family to know what you need and feel, you have to express it. Give them the opportunity to help you and each other.

Sometimes all generations are afraid to ask because we fear an obligation that we can’t fulfill, or maybe, even more, work—that if we ask the need will be something that may cost us time or money. But what if we looked through a lens of love and just listened and acknowledged the other?

It starts with a desire, a willingness to truly try to understand what the world of those we love is like. We may stand in the same space, but we don’t have the same realities. But when we add those different world perspectives up, the inspiration will take us to the moon and back.


A long-time social work professional, grandparenting activist, and passionate Grandpa, author Jerry Witkovsky offers fresh approaches to help grandparents enter their grandchild’s world, to leave values, not just valuables, and create a living legacy. Over the past year, he has undertaken extensive research and evaluation to support the transformative effect grandparents can have on families and communities when they enter their grandchild’s world via a Grandparent Connection School Program. Learn more about starting a program at your grandchild’s school at www.grandparentsunleashed.com.

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