Earlier this summer I ventured to Chicago to attend my Pre-Service Orientation [check out that write-up here] before officially completing my enrollment into AmeriCorps. While there I met Elaine K. Williams, our phenomenal team facilitator. She greatly inspired me and truly left an imprint on my life.
Elaine was always encouraging, understanding, focused and patient. Not only was she knowledgeable about what we were discussing, she was also an excellent facilitator. We had a moment to chat and share some of the details of our lives. We discussed generational poverty which led us to discussing her passion for parenting-grandparents and the book that she had recently wrote about it.
I immediately remembered the important role that my grandfather, Ronnie, played in helping to raise me; various friends who were raised mainly–or solely–by their grandparents flooded my mind. I thought about how many homes have more than one generation dwelling in them, and even how I still hit my mom up for financial help with the girls when things get tight on my end. I more clearly understood the crucial parenting role that grandparents play , even well after they’ve raised their own children.
A woman of many trades (she’s a counselor, consultant, educator and author), I asked Elaine for an interview. She graciously accepted, and I’m honored to feature her on the site today.
EKW: I am a woman who is blessed with a wonderful family, a passion for service, and a firm belief in the Oneness of Life. I treasure my time with my daughters and grandchildren and have found they are my greatest teachers. They live in Michigan, Illinois and Arizona, so visiting with them gives me a chance to travel and have real meaningful time with each of them and their families.
I love being with and working with people. I realize we all have so much in common that I have grown weary of the focus on our differences, and find diversity is a joy when it “sets” on a foundation of what we all share in common. When I am not writing, training or counseling others, I enjoy being in nature. I still love to play and recently took a 100 mile motorcycle ride with my son-in-law. Finding that which inspires me, fulfills me, and allows me to smile and form deep connections nurtures my spirit and gives me a sense of well-being.
SS: I love your value system and outlook on life. You mentioned your passion for service, which is closely tied with your career paths. I know you’re an author and educator. How did you get started in each of those fields?
EKW: Both of those fields found me. I have always noticed the “gaps” in information in the various work I have done over the years and consciously would strive to educate myself in those areas and write about them. For instance, with parenting grandparents, I was working in Washington, D.C. and was strolling in front of the Congressional building when I saw a gathering of parenting grandparents with the then, Senator Hillary Clinton addressing them. I ended up sitting with them, talking with them and eventually went to dinner with some of them. When I heard their stories I could not believe what I was hearing.
I realized there was nothing written about this immensely growing trend or the psychological, emotional and social challenges parenting grandparents and their grandchildren face on a daily basis. So I interviewed over 60 of them and decided to tell their stories in my book and used them to address solutions for the many challenges they face.
Being an educator came naturally to me. I love to learn and I love to share what I have learned. I realized many years ago we are always influencing each other whether we know it or not, so I might as well influence and be influenced with a sense of wisdom and hope which comes from our life experiences.
SS: Can you tell us a little more about your book The Sacred Work of Grandparents Raising Their Grandchildren, about the book and the writing process?
EKW: The Sacred Work of Grandparents Raising Their Grandchildren is the first book that contains answers and real-life stories to address the unique issues and challenges–parenting grandparents face on a daily basis. I tried to write the book for both parenting grandparents, and the professionals (social workers/teachers, etc.) who support them. I tried to infuse it with their voices and reflect some of their wisdom. I offer practical suggestions on how grandchildren can manage and solve some of their own problems, while learning how to cope their distinctive challenges during various phases of their life.
As I interviewed parenting grandparents I realized certain patterns and challenges emerged from their stories: generational gaps, loss of their adult child to drugs or crime, death or illness, facing tough questions like, “Why is my father in jail?” Why aren’t my parents raising me? Why doesn’t my mother show up to visit when she promised?”
Given my background in social work and hypnotherapy, I truly appreciated how important it was to reflect their stories and address these difficult issues. So, this is what I tried to accomplish in writing my book.
SS: That’s extremely profound. Can you provide some basic understanding of the hypnotherapy and psychotherapy, and how you use them?
EKW: It seems my entire professional experiences have prepared me to write this book and work with parenting grandparents and their grandchildren. I started off working with street gangs and alienated youth after receiving my Master’s in Social Work from the University of Michigan. I then went on to work with the first methadone treatment program for heroin addicts in New York City. I began working also with their families which led to my studying with Virginia Satir, the founder of structural family therapy. After that I started working with families realizing you could not just identify one person as “ill” in the family, but instead, I was dealing with the dysfunctions of a family unit. I continued working with teenagers and their families after moving to Indiana and then Michigan. In Michigan, because I was then raising my own children I began working in home health care and hospice with the chronically and terminally ill and I realized I had basically worked with people along the entire human life cycle.
This is what the grandparent families are…they represent the human life cycle and all its stages of development and all the physical, psychological, emotional, social and spiritual influences we face depending on our life experiences. Many of the grandchildren have been abused, neglected, abandoned, and / or rejected by their parents and many present with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I realized these children and teens are frequently mis-diagnosed as hyper-active ADD or ADHD and so, it has become very important to me to educate the grandparents about PTSD so they can find the right treatment interventions for their grandkids.
SS: I think people often fail to acknowledge and respect the human life cycle. So as a woman of many gifts, you also facilitate retreats and training’s. How did this come about and what are some of the topics covered in your sessions?
EKW: Yes, I do. I realized about 20 years ago that what was true for the individual could be extrapolated to families, teams, groups and communities of people. Once one understands that we are in a constant state of influencing others and being influenced by them, then we understand that life is all connected. So, I have a choice of “intentionally” trying to influence life from a positive, hopeful perspective or its opposite. Intentionality is very powerful, so during my retreats and trainings, I am always trying to help others realize their innate internal power. Not power over people, but the innate power we were each born with and that we each need to consciously utilize constructively on behalf of the ‘greater good.’
I have conducted retreats on Finding the Still Point of Your Soul, where we basically discover the peaceful essence of our truest self; I have also offered retreats that involved addressing Death and Life, and how we choose everyday things/activities/ways of being that either grow us or deaden us. So anyone who knows me realizes how important self-awareness and self-love is in life and how we can only free ourselves of making judgments and false assumptions by lovingly becoming self-aware and accepting ourselves, both our vulnerabilities and our strengths. My trainings are significantly communication oriented and relate again to developing our own emotional and social intelligence, as well as being as authentic as possible. Fear contributes to mis-perceptions so authenticity can only be experienced when we are willing to face our fears.
SS: To date, what have been some of your most memorable sessions? Why?
EKW: Wow, so many to choose from! Any memorable session for me involves either an, “aha” moment for my client, and therefore for me; or, a child or adult realizing how much strength there is in being vulnerable.
I worked with a 7-year-old boy who was born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. He was an orphan from another country adopted by American parents. Due to many problems, he ended up being raised by his grandparents and when I met him he was so extremely fearful. He could not sleep alone or even go to the bathroom by himself, until he was 12 years old. It took five years of working with him and his loving grandparents, but slowly his fear dissipated and he became more confident. His is truly an amazing and humbling story.
I recently met a 69-year-old grandmother who just adopted her infant granddaughter, who had been abandoned by her parents. The grandmother is my age and I asked myself could I make that sacrifice? Not an easy answer to make and certainly not an easy undertaking. At 69 years of age, everything is telling you to slow down–your body, your mind, society, etc. Even developmentally, at 69 years of age we should be enjoying the “integrity of our life,” not moving backward to raising a new generation. Becoming a parenting grandparent pushes against the current of life, that is why I so admire those who take this role on.
I did get goose bumps when I heard an 18-year-old thank her grandma and grand daddy for raising and loving her. She made it very clear she would not be going to college, anticipating a life of opportunity if it were not for their sacrifices and the things they gave up, so she could have a meaningful life.
These are just a few memorable moments, but please know, I have been blessed with many personally and professionally.
SS: What advice would you give to our readers regarding life, the importance of balance and/or inner peace?
EKW: Balance is everything. When I am “in” balance, I am my truest self. I know my
limits and I know my capabilities. My thoughts, emotions, words, behaviors and beliefs are all in alignment. I am in essence authentic, regardless of what others might think or say about me. When I live from a place of integrity, I respect others and all of life and I know that internal peacefulness; that Still Point of my soul that I referenced earlier. We are all here for a unique purpose, discovering that purpose and dedicated our lives to it will leave a legacy for our children and grandchildren to do the same in their own unique way. When we live from the inner-self and not the outer-world, we are more likely to balance our mind and hearts in a way that nurtures the self and all of life.
SS: What is your key to ‘Sincerely Lovin’ Life?
EKW: I remind myself daily that “we are all connected.” We are One with the Divine,” and so, everything I do, say or be matters not just to me but all of life. So I better make it optimistic, hopeful, fun and meaningful. I also remind myself that “sometime” is right now! At the end of each day I take a moment to be consciously grateful for everything about that day. In doing so, I realize gratitude is grace and grace fills my soul.
See why I just HAD to interview her? Well, I’ve attended my therapy session for the week; she just put so many things in perspective for me.
Thank you so much Elaine!
– Sincerely Syreeta