Is there an art to grandparenting? The topic expands in many directions at a monthly support group at Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Potomac.
The Art of Grandparenting sessions meet a need raised by a congregation whose 2,500 members are one-third baby boomers. Roberta Drucker, Jewish Social Service Agency social worker and synagogue liaison, created the support program at B’nai Tzedek’s request and facilitates the sessions.
She calls the group a “room of experts,” given the experience each member brings and the support they gain from each other. Starting “intentional conversations,” she brings a topic to each session that begins a problem solving conversation. She also asks, “Did anything come up this past month that was difficult,” a question that stimulates dialogue and supportive exchange.
The group has about 15 members and is growing. Started in the fall of 2014, the sessions have addressed varied topics, but a common theme is communication. The group discusses concerns that arise in parenting adult children, setting boundaries for oneself or others, long-distance grandparenting, dealing with transitions, navigating differing family constellations, and handling holiday conflicts.
For example, the group has talked about arranging family get-togethers at times other than meals when different generations or siblings observe kashrut differently. In relating to grown children and their families, group members discussed asking, rather than bringing, clothes or toys that may not be the parents’ preference.
Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt, said, “People are coming into the next chapter of lives and the group offers families a chance to come together and learn from each other and from experts too. The synagogue plays an important role in navigating the different stages in life’s journey.”
Participants speak about techniques to keep in touch with modern children who may live far away. One member, for example, includes a photo of herself every time she contacts her grandchildren as way to continue the connection. They also talk about being sensitive to diverse family members and the latest trends in parenting as compared to parenting experiences of the past.
“We focus on what’s happening with the generations now that we are parents of adult children and have grandchildren. We are at a stage of life that presents its own issues. The generation gap seems much wider. We get support from each other,” says Diane Kozuch, one of the participants.
“We go home with something to think about,” says Linda Grodin, another participant.
While support groups and counseling are available in other settings, participants commented that talking about Jewish grandparent issues in the synagogue adds a level of comfort. Iris Myles says, “The Jewish component is important and a part we can’t get anywhere else.” Grodin adds, “It enriches our relationship with each other to see one another also as members of the synagogue.”
As a synagogue liaison, Drucker provides individual and family consultation at four synagogues. She also leads workshops on a variety of topics, including aging, for the congregations’ educators and families. JSSA currently provides a range of social work services under contracts with 17 synagogues.