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Intergenerational Relationships: An Interview with Author Susan V. Bosak.

In this interview and in her book Something to Remember Me By: An Illustrated Story for the Young and Old, author Susan Bosak addresses the importance of nurturing intergenerational relationships. In fact, an increasing number of children in the United States are living in the same home as one or more of their grandparents (see Table 1). Ms. Bosak's story of the relationship between a grandmother and granddaughter raises important issues about intergenerational relationships, which she discusses in this interview with Elizabeth Ahmann, Pediatric Nursing Editorial Board member and Family Matters section editor.

Table 1. The Census Bureau's First Report on Grandparent-Grandchild Co-Residence

While Susan Bosak, in her book and in this interview, addresses the importance of nurturing intergenerational relationships, an increasing number of children in the United States are in fact living in the same home as one or more of their grandparents. According to a recent Census Bureau Current Population Report titled "Coresident Grandparents and Grandchildren," the first Census Bureau report on households in which grandparents and grandchildren live together, in 1997 nearly 4.7 million grandparents were living with their grandchildren (Bryson & Casper, 1999). While some of this coresidence occurred in parent-maintained households, 75% occurred in grandparent-maintained households. According to the report, in 1997, 3.9 million children were living in grandparent-maintained households. This number represents 5.5% of all children under 18 years of age in the Unites States, an increase of 2.5% since 1970 (Bryson & Casper, 1999).

In the 5 years prior to the March 1997 Current Population Survey, from which the data in this report is taken, the greatest increase in grandparent-grandchild co-residence occurred among children living with grandparents without a parent in the home (Bryson & Casper, 1999). Reasons for this increase may include parental drug use, AIDS, incarceration, health and mental health problems, teen pregnancy, divorce, and child abuse and neglect.

Data collected from the 1997 survey suggests that the majority of coresident grandparents and grandchildren are not experiencing economic hardship. However, certain family structures are more at-risk (Bryson & Casper, 1999, p. 9):

* Grandparents and grandchildren in grandparent-maintained families are more likely to be poor than those in parent-maintained families.

* [G]randmother-child-grandchild families are the most likely to be poor.

* These same family types [are] more likely to be receiving public assistance.

* Grandchildren in grandparent-maintained families are more likely to be uninsured than all children.

Although the Current Population Survey, the source of data for this report, is conducted by the Census Bureau, it is not based on a complete census. However, plans for the year 2000 Decennial Census include the use of a multipart question regarding grandparents as caregivers.


Bryson, K., & Casper, L.M. (May, 1999). Coresident grandparents and grandchildren. Current Population Reports: Special Studies: (Census Bureau, P23-198, 10 pp.) Available at:

EA (Elizabeth Ahmann): I was delighted to read your book, Something to Remember Me By: An Illustrated Story for Young and Old, which tells the story of the relationship between a grandmother and granddaughter over time. I want to congratulate you on the book and the many awards it has won. I am wondering if you can tell me a bit about yourself and why you wrote this book.

SVB (Susan V. Bosak): I have a background in human communication and I run two types of intergenerational workshops. One type is for professionals and addresses general issues regarding intergenerational relationships. The other is for teachers, children, parents, and grandparents. We always have discussions in these workshops, but I am interested in using different ways of communicating to reach people. So, I began to include this story in my workshops. The response was very strong. I was amazed to see that the story opened people up even more than discussion had. The story reached children, prompting questions, and it reached adults, prompting many comments and memories. The story has struck a deep chord for people, and has reached everyone in some way. The story is about something that is fundamental. It is about feeling connected and about the need to leave a legacy.

Defining Intergenerational Relationships

EA: Can you comment generally on intergenerational relationships and why this was important for you to write about?

SVB: Intergenerational relationships are a vital issue in our hectic, high-tech world. Families are spread out, and, in addition, people are segregated by age. Six-year-olds go to one place every day; 20-year-olds go to another; and 80-year-olds are in yet another place. For these reasons, we miss out on what the generations have to offer each other.

Relationships across the generations provide things you cannot get in any other way. On a broad level, these relationships connect all of us to the past, to the future, and to the flow of life. Intergenerational relationships also have concrete benefits for everyone. When they have close relationships with their elders, the young have a better sense of themselves and better self-esteem. Adults involved with their elders cope better with stress and have more perspective. Research shows that the elderly who are in contact with younger generations experience many benefits, including decreased memory loss, decreased depression, and increased life satisfaction.

Psychological, sociological, and anthropological research shows us that intergenerational relationships are important on both a personal and societal level. Four basic human needs have been identified: the need to live, the need to learn, the need to love, and the need to leave a legacy. The need to leave a legacy is linked to the need to love, and that is what this book addresses.

Analyzing the Author's Book

EA: Tell me more about your book. Who do you hope will read it? How do you hope it will be used?

SVB: I have found that my book has gotten a good response from 5-year-olds through 80-year-olds. The story is a way to say "I love you." The story is also a way to talk about important topics. It gives ideas about how to build a living legacy.

I have found that children and adults bring themselves to the book. It gets kids thinking about their grandparents. One young girl in Boston asked me to sign a copy of the book for her grandmother. She had made a photo collage of many things she and her grandmother had done together and planned to give her grandmother the book and the collage. The book also speaks to adults. One woman in Kansas City wanted me to sign the book for her mother who was in a nursing home. When she and her mom read the book, they had a good cry. Then they had a talk about family memories, a talk they said had been long overdue.

It is my hope that the book inspires good talks like these and also lots of hugs. If you read between the lines of the book, it is very rich. For example, take the line "She gave her a big warm smile and ... a warm, snugly hug." We all need those smiles and hugs. Yet, research has shown that the frequency of hugs decreases with increasing age. Toddlers get more hugs than teens, and 30-year-olds get more hugs than 80-year-olds. I hope this book helps people remember to give that extra hug.

My other hope is that the end of this book is only the beginning for the readers. Using the power of story is very powerful in families. Reading aloud is important, cozy, builds bonds, and starts conversations. Reading together helps people to know themselves and each other better. I would encourage families to start a family book club, all generations reading the same book each month. Grandparents who are not nearby can send grandchildren a new book each month. This activity gives everyone something to talk about and to share.

EA: Speaking of activities, I have been impressed by the free "Readers Companion" that comes with the book. It looks like something that might be useful to both families who read the book and professionals who might want to use the book as a jumping-off point for discussions about intergenerational relationships. Can you tell me about it and why you wrote it?

SVB: I think people often don't realize all the layers in Something to Remember Me By. There are many parts to the story, and readers often see different things each time they read it. Also, readers may not realize that the story can be a starting point that can be used to go further.

I wanted to write the Reader's Companion to help families use the book in different ways. For example the "Reader's Companion" includes activities that can be done with the book, such as hunting for certain pictures, and activities to supplement the reading, such as children interviewing an elder or grandparents sending monthly postcards to their grandchildren. It also includes suggestions for intergenerational discussions; it identifies key aspects of the story; and it points out teachable moments. Finally, I also wanted to make people aware of other related books for children and adults on this topic, so I included a resource list.

EA: You mention hunting for illustrations as a valuable activity to do with the book. In fact, the illustrations seem central to the book. Can you tell me about that and your collaboration with the illustrator?

SVB: Well, in fact, I worked closely with the illustrator of this book, which is unusual for authors. I felt strongly about this book and had a vision of what I wanted it to be like.

I had seen illustrations by Laurie McGaw in another book. I noticed that she paid a lot of attention to detail, and I liked that. When she looked over my story, she was very interested in it. She said that she had had a special relationship with her own grandmother, and also recognized her young daughter's relationship with her "nanny." At the time, she also was going through a lot with her own mother who has since died. So, she and I both put heart and soul into creating the book.

Before Laurie started the illustrations, we went on a grandma hunt and took pictures of many grandmothers. We. showed photos of our list of finalists to a group of kids. Most of them thought one looked the most "huggable." She was also our top choice. So, she is the model for the grandmother in the book. We also used her 7- and 11-year-old grandchildren as models for the girl in the book at different ages and her daughter as a model for the granddaughter in the book as an adult.

I think the illustrations in the book show genuine emotions and affection. As the "Reader's Companion" points out, many of the details in the illustrations can prompt important questions and discussions.

Author's Relationship with Her Grandmother

EA: Tell me about your relationship with your own grandmother.

SVB: A story in the "Reader's Companion" tells about my best memory of her. 1 have so many wonderful memories, but maybe my favorite one is that we had a little tradition on my birthday. She would get up extra early to be the first one to telephone me and sing "Happy Birthday." I think of her every birthday, and in my mind I can still hear her singing.

My relationship with my grandmother has always been very special to me. Even as an adult, my grandmother has always stayed in my heart. When I am feeling down, memories of my grandmother still give me strength.

My grandmother is 100 now and when I visit her she does not always remember me, but when I take her hand she smiles, and 1 am certain that the love is there. I know that even when she no longer remembers me, I will always remember her.

The Role of Pediatric Nurses

EA: What role do you think pediatric nurses can play in fostering intergenerational relationships?

SVB: I certainly think pediatric nurses can recognize how important intergenerational relationships are. They can encourage, facilitate, validate, and support these relationships. When kids are sick, they need their parents for love, support, and comfort. Grandparents play an important role too; they can provide fun and indulgence that, at times, parents may not be able to offer.

The relationship between grandparents and grandchildren is far less psychologically complex that the parent-child relationship. If nurtured, it can provide a great deal of support.

I hope that my book will help nurses and other readers recognize the need for and importance of intergenerational connection. I hope readers will realize that we should all make the most of the moments we have today, as they will be the memories of tomorrow. The legacy we leave is only as strong as the love we give.

Something to Remember Me By: An Illustrated Story for Young and Old

Something to Remember Me By is a 32-page picture book written by best-selling author and intergenerational researcher Susan V. Bosak, M.A., and illustrated by award-winning watercolor artist Laurie McGaw. It has won six national awards, including the Joan Fassler Book Award from the Association for the Care of Children's Health, and has sold over 100,000 copies. One reviewer described the book as follows: "Something to Remember Me By has the emotion of Love You Forever, the inspiration of Chicken Soup for the Soul, and the beauty of a Norman Rockwell painting."

Something to Remember Me By is a book that can be enjoyed by children, mothers, and grandmothers as well as a book that can be shared and discussed in a family or used to spur discussion or activities with either intergenerational groups or groups of children. The heartwarming story of love and legacies begins with the happy times a little girl and her grandmother share. Many visits end with the grandmother giving her granddaughter a small keepsake as "something to remember me by." As the years pass, the grandmother grows older. The grown granddaughter then gives to her grandmother, and it's clear each generation has something special to give the other.

A free "Reader's Companion" is available for using the book with children. It contains discussion topics, teachable moments, intergenerational activities, ideas for bringing young and old closer together, and an annotated listing of related books and resources.

Something to Remember Me By, written by Susan V. Bosak, illustrated by Laurie McGaw, ISBN 1-896232-01-9, 32 pages, hardcover, full color, $15.95 plus $3 shipping. To order the book and Reader's Companion, contact The Communication Project; 9 Lobraico Lane; Whitchurch-Stouffville, Ontario, Canada; L4A 7X5; (800) 772-7765.

Elizabeth Ahmann, ScD, RN, is a Consultant in Family and Child Health in Washington, DC, and Section Editor of the Family Matters Column.

Susan V. Bosak is the author of the award-winning book Something to Remember Me By: An Illustrated Story for Young and Old (see Box).

The Family Matters section focuses on issues, information, and strategies relevant to working with families of pediatric patients. To suggest topics, obtain author guidelines, or to submit queries or manuscripts, contact Elizabeth Ahmann, ScD, RN; Section Editor; Pediatric Nursing; East Holly Avenue Box 56; Pitman, NJ 08071-0056; (856) 256-2300 or FAX (856) 256-2345.
COPYRIGHT 1999 Jannetti Publications, Inc.
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Author:Ahmann, Elizabeth; Bosak, Susan V.
Publication:Pediatric Nursing
Article Type:Interview
Date:Nov 1, 1999
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