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Who do you hang out with?
Chances are, we spend the most time with our peers.
Teenagers might flash a smile at uncles and aunties in the neighbourhood, but usually not more. Even in our families, barriers of language, culture, time and age make communication awkward.
There’s a technology divide too. I’m a Gen Zer and my mobile phone is my best friend to communicate online, but my grandparents, like most seniors, do not.
So how do we start bridging the generational gap?
First off, do it like you mean it, says Tan Chin Hock.
“When it comes to intergenerational relationships, we must be intentional in fostering connection and growth,” he tells The Pride.
The 46-year-old founder of HoldingHands studio lives with his wife, their three kids, Charmaine, Celine and Charlene, and his parents Foo Lian and Eng Koon in a 4-room flat in the north-eastern part of Singapore.
It can get a little cramped at times but it’s important for families to be together, says Chin Hock,
His earliest memories were of his grandparents caring for him while his parents were at work. Growing up, he was taught about filial piety and paying it forward. And when his eldest daughter Charmaine was born in 2011, Chin Hock moved his parents back in with his three-generational family.
Because of that, Charmaine, 12, says that she too has fond memories growing up with her grandparents. While her parents are at work, her grandfather would pick her and her sisters from school to go home for their grandmother’s home-cooked meals.
It’s a simple, often-forgotten fact that our seniors have many lessons to share with the younger generation. That’s why Chin Hock strives to facilitate meaningful interactions between his children and his parents.
But such interactions don’t come without sacrifice.
Take 82-year-old Dexter Tai.
An advocate for family ties, Dexter inculcated his belief – that relationships and money are equally valuable – in his son, Dexter Jr.
Dexter lives with his son’s family, while his wife Teresa stays with her brother. It’s a temporary arrangement until their new place completes renovations in June.
Like his father, Dexter Jr, a polytechnic lecturer, believes in the importance of familial relationships, which is why he returned to Singapore after four years abroad with his wife Patricia when their first child was born in 2011.
He believes it is important for his sons Dylan, 12 and Max, 11 to grow up with his grandparents close by.
Being intentional means making sacrifices. For example, in 2017, Dexter Jr left his F&B business to spend more time with the family.
He explains: “I look back at why I wanted to raise kids, and to me, it was to be involved. And I think being involved requires a bit of sacrifice, a bit of reorganisation of time. I think one of the bigger motivations was to find a job that allowed me the flexibility of time.”
Bridging generational gaps
Living in a multi-generational household can come with challenges.
For example, Chin Hock’s parents occasionally indulge their grandchildren with unhealthy snacks, a small matter that could cause unhappiness over their different approaches to health.
However, Chin Hock says it’s important to put himself in his parents’ shoes.
“I know it comes from a place of love, so I remind myself to look at their intentions instead of their actions,” he says.
And that other-centeredness goes both ways.
Dexter Sr, who started volunteering at YMCA after retiring at 72, says that reframing perspectives is key in bridging generational gaps.
“As a senior talking to youths at my YMCA programmes, it’s important for me to look from their perspective. This is most fundamental as many children do not talk to their parents, especially if they cannot put themselves in their children’s shoes.”
Communication is key
The solution, as to many circumstances, is communication.
For example, Candy Gan, 26, says her parents, Angela and Yew Yah, raised her and her younger brother on open communication.
Growing up, they would always ask Candy about her day. When she was in school, her friends were no strangers to Candy’s parents.
“I think it’s important to always openly communicate with your children from a young age. Whether it’s something big or small, we will always be interested in what she’s doing,” says Angela.
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When Candy was two, she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, a chronic condition that reduces the body’s insulin, the hormone responsible for regulating our sugar levels.
“We were in disbelief when we first found out. We didn’t understand it or why she had it, but we had to quickly re-adjust and find out what we had to do.” says Angela,
As a child, Candy says she wasn’t worried because her parents were always on top of it. Angela took charge of Candy’s diet, while Yew Wah planned the medications, especially when the family travelled.
But this was put to the test when Candy went to the UK to study at the London School of Economics.
Alone overseas, she learnt to be independent.
“I had to learn things like ironing my own clothes. It was very hard for me!” Candy laughs, “but my mum was always a phone call away, and she always called to check on me.”
Even with regular FaceTime calls, being thousands of miles away from their daughter was worrying for Candy’s parents.
So when Candy went to London, it was a leap of faith for her parents to let her manage on her own. To ease her transition, Angela stayed with her in her first year. But through constant communication, Candy’s parents knew they could trust her to be independent.
“Now she’s the one taking care of us,” Yew Wah says, laughing.
Learning from each other
Intergenerational relationships aren’t a one-way street though.
For example, Candy and her younger brother taught their parents to use Snapchat. So now, instead of just texting one another, the family communicates with silly selfies in their chats.
Chin Hock says his children taught him that life can be more simple. Whenever he gets stressed, he remembers how his daughters, like most children their age, trust their instincts instead of overthinking.
But could these intergenerational relationships flourish outside families?
Ng Hong Kai, 27, thinks so. The NUS research assistant feels that younger generations can learn to be more open to collaborating with the elderly.
In September 2021, he worked with Mohidin Pitchai, a 62-year-old who has been volunteering for 13 years as a health ambassador at the Health Promotion Board.
With members from intergenerational non-profit organisation GenLab Collective and in collaboration with Kampung Eats, an initiative that aims to preserve traditional dishes, the pair came up with an online cookbook called ‘Healthy Local Makans’ for elderly people with diabetes.
From that experience, Hong Kai feels that younger generations should be more open to work with seniors. They are adaptable, he says, adding that even though technology was a barrier, Mohidin was receptive to using Zoom for meetings.
“It is not fair to judge them (seniors), and decide that they are dependent on the youths for inspiration. They have their own perspectives, they just may not be as vocal when the youths are sharing their ideas,” says Hong Kai.
Intergenerational Week 2023
Interacting with others from different generations can seem daunting at first, but all it takes is the willingness to make a first step.
This week is Global Intergenerational Week, a campaign organised by international non-profit organisation Generations Working Together, which aims to connect different age groups through mutually beneficial activities.
This year, spearheaded by Genlab, Singapore will be taking part in the campaign for the first time.
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The week-long campaign starts today (Apr 24) and ends on Saturday (Apr 30). There are online and offline events, including an international mix and mingle on Zoom at 5pm on Friday (Apr 28), where participants can meet other youths and seniors from Hungary and Scotland.
If you prefer to find out more about intergenerational relationships in person, you can sign up for a Gendate at GenLab’s intergenerational bonding workshop at Temasek Shophouse on Saturday!