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The Ready.Set.Retire! Blog


The Retirement Success in Maine Podcast Ep 019: Creating A Better Connection with Your Grandkids in Retirement with Chris McLaughlin

Benjamin Smith, CFA

Executive Summary

Episode 19

A key point in our financial planning conversations with our clients as they near or go through retirement is, “WHO do you want to spend your time with in retirement?” and many times the answer is focused around their children and/or grandchildren. But, how do you develop AND maintain relationships with younger generations? What are some common mistakes that are made when dealing with two generations with differing value systems, interests, and tastes? How can technology help with building a better relationship with your grandchildren? Listen in as we ask these questions to Chris McLaughlin, Associate Vice President of Community and Pediatric Services for Northern Light Health Acadia Hospital with over 20 years of experience providing mental health services to youth and families across a variety of settings.

What You'll Learn In This Podcast Episode:

On this episode of The Retirement Success in Maine Podcast, we are joined by Chris McLaughlin of Northern Light Health’s (NLH) Acadia Hospital. Chris is the Associate Vice President of Community and Pediatric Services for NLH Acadia Hospital with over 20 years of experience providing mental health services to youth and families across a variety of settings. Outside of his work at NLH Acadia Hospital, Chris spends time as an adjunct faculty member at both The University of Maine, in Orono and Husson University, in Bangor. We wanted to have Chris on the show with us because a key point in the conversations with our clients as they near or go through retirement is, “ WHO do you want to spend your time with?” and naturally, the answer is often focused around their children and/or grandchildren. 

Listen in to learn more about Chris and his role at NLH Acadia Hospital, as well as hearing Chris navigate us through questions like, How do you develop AND maintain relationships with the younger generations? What are some common mistakes that are made when dealing with two, spread out generations? How can technology help with building a better relationship with your grandchildren? Some of his answers may surprise you!


Welcome to the show, Chris! [2:24]

What is Chris’s role at NLH Acadia Hospital, and what types of work does he do? [8:14]

How can an adult develop a better relationship with someone 20-30 years younger than them? [20:52]

It’s one thing to connect with a younger child, but how do you maintain that relationship throughout different adolescent stages? [24:21]

What are some common mistakes you see the older generations making when dealing with younger generations? [26:30]

What are some common myths or stereotypes about this generation of kids, and are those new themes or repeating? [32:35]

How does someone who feels unprepared to provide care for a child or grandchild seek assistance? [40:11]

How can someone with (financial) resources, use those resources to help with their familial relationships? What works and what doesn’t work? [43:08]

From the younger generation's perspective, what are some things that may cause them to turn off to that relationship with their parents or grandparents? [46:48]

Are there ways to use technologies, like Zoom, to better relationships? [49:48]

What is Retirement Success for Chris? [56:05]

Ben, Abby, and Curtis wrap-up the episode. [58:11]


211 Maine

Eastern Area Agency on Aging

Adoptive & Foster  Families of Maine, Inc.

GEAR Parent Network

Northern Light Health Acadia Hospital CARES Video Series Introduction

CARES Video Series: Youth Suicide Prevention

CARES Video Series:  Bullying

CARES Video Series:  Youth Eating Disorders

CARES Video Series: LGBTQ & Youth

Contact NLH Acadia Hospital

Chris McLaughlin Receives National Award for Innovative Program Development

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Ben Smith:                   Welcome everybody. My name is Ben Smith. I'm joined by my two co-hosts, Abby Doody, and Curtis Worcester, the Gordon College Fighting Scots, the Husson Eagles to my UMaine Black Bears. How are you guys doing today?

Curtis Worcester:         That's good.

Abby Doody:                 Good! How are you, Ben?

Ben Smith:                   We're kind of talking lots of different things and a lot of relationship talk lately is kind of what we're doing. One of the things that we hear when we sit down with our clients a lot is they have this goal, they're entering retirement, and they go, "You know what? I want to spend more time with my family." And then we ask the next question is, "Okay. Well, who do you want to spend time with?" And they then name maybe kids or another place they start going is, "Well, grandkids. I have grandkids. I'm really proud of them. I get to see them a little, I'd love to spend more time with them. I'd love to get to know them. I'd love to share values with them, but I have lots of barriers here. I I don't know what they're into. I know they don't really know me other than showing up at the birthday parties. Well, I've finished on my career so much and embracing to that finish line. And now I have all this time as a quotient. How do I start that relationship? How do I make sure I'm bridging that in a constructive way?" Versus, they're like, "I want to spend time with them. Maybe they don't want to spend time with me. How do I make sure they want to do that?"

Ben Smith:                   So those are the things that we wanted to really work on here as a topic is, how do I bridge that relationship with kids or grandkids as I'm getting ready to retire? That's where we want it to go. We have a really good friend, Chris McLaughlin, who is over at Northern Light Acadia Hospital. He's somebody that has a lot of expertise in adolescence and development issues there and kind of working with that population. So, we thought he'd bring a really special lens to this conversation. So, I want to welcome Chris to the show today. Chris, appreciate you being on.

Chris McLaughlin:         Thanks, Ben. It's great to be with you guys today.

Ben Smith:                   Yeah. So, with all of our guests, as we want to get to know you a little bit and just spend a little time with you, hear about your perspective and kind of hear a little bit more about you. So, could you just start with, where did you grow up? What was your upbringing like, and then your path towards social work and working with kids?

Chris McLaughlin:         Sure. So, I am a Mainer, born and raised. I grew up in Old Town, so close by and spent all of my years out in the Pushaw Lake region of Old Town. I took it for granted back in the day how special of a place it is and try to get back there as often as possible. I'm also a U Maine grad, Go Black Bears! Sorry Abby, sorry Curtis. Yeah. I haven't left far from home, growing up in Old Town and then going to school in Orono really solidified my really by affinity for this place.

Chris McLaughlin:         Maine is home and probably will always be home to some degree. As you mentioned, I am employed at Northern Light Acadia Hospital here in Bangor. We are a freestanding psychiatric facility for those that aren't familiar with our services. In my role at Acadia, I oversee pediatric services as well as some of our community-based programs.

Chris McLaughlin:         My entire career really has been working with kids and families. For the last two decades, I'm a LCSW, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker by trade. And so, for the last two decades have been working with kids and families who are on really all stages of developmental need and behavioral health issues. And really relationships is really the name of the game than you hit the nail on the head early on that it's really about, how do we get people to maximize their success in interacting with one another at any age regardless of what's happened in the past, how do we move forward?

Ben Smith:                   I think one of the things I always like to know is, we know what you do, we know maybe we'll learn a little bit more how you do it, but always the why, is we all kind of have a gravity towards the one thing that we love to do. And with our team we kind of almost feel retirement obsessed is that we just want to know everything we can about helping our clients. So, we have to become obsessed with this kind of transition point and getting them through it. So, with you, what was that spur that says, "You know what? Social work, working with pediatrics, working with kids, this is what I'm about. This is what I'm passionate about and why I do what I do every day."?

Chris McLaughlin:         I will acknowledge something I probably haven't said out loud to many people before, Ben. So, this is a special moment for you and your listeners. My moment was the first time I watched the movie, Silence of the Lambs, which is twisted, but the role that Jodie foster played and just trying that whole piece around the why, as you just said, why we do the things that we do. Why we're driven in the places that we're driven to.

Chris McLaughlin:         But didn't really know at the time what social work was or that it existed. It wasn't until I started working at Acadia in the very early '90s, when the hospital first opened. At 19 years old working on the pediatric inpatient unit, the first real job I had as I was a college student and got to know and be really friendly with the clinicians on that unit, and learned of the field and learned that maybe going to the FBI and interrogating folks in prison was not what I wanted to do, but really working in a different office setting with kids and families and really helping kids be who they want to be with families who can love them unconditionally and really help move folks forward.

Chris McLaughlin:         Not unlike the work you do with folks with retirement planning, goal setting is a big part of the work we do with kids and families as well. So, helping kids and families meet their goals is really what we're about.

Ben Smith:                   In just dig in a little bit more there with your credit, so in terms of when you kind of started that job, what was it about working with kids was the population? Because you could have worked with adults, you could have worked with geriatric, you could have worked with all these different segments. Was there something about those years that said, "You know what? Here's where I can make the most impact and why I'm more passionate about it."?

Chris McLaughlin:         I think that's it. I'm sensitive about not feeding into some of the stereotypes about old dogs and new tricks. But I really felt like I could maximize my impact with kids. Believe it or not, my area of specialty were actually the preschoolers. So, the four or five-year olds was where I spent the early parts of my career. But found myself coming back to adolescents. I worked in many residential treatment facilities after my graduate schooling was done at Orono. And that, I think I'm a big kid at heart and I hope to always be, and just being able to relate to kids and families on that level is important, and frankly, it's what I know.

Chris McLaughlin:         And so, thinking about working with a different population kind of overwhelms me, especially at this point in my career. But yeah, I've always been drawn to where I think my strengths are and where I can make the most impact.

Ben Smith:                   Okay. Love to hear, obviously we've had episode eight where we had Dr. Cliff Singer on. He was talking about the geriatric end here. And so, our audience has heard from him in terms of an introduction to Northern Light Acadia Hospital and some of the services. But more specifically towards that lens with Dr. Singer, I'd love to hear a little bit more about your area in working with kids in pediatrics and what is that job? What are you doing? What sort of population is coming to you? What sort of challenges do they have? How do you look to help them? That sort of piece. I think that's a critical piece in terms of your lens and your expertise, I want to share with that audience.

Chris McLaughlin:         Yeah. Well, Cliff Singer is a tough act to follow. So I'm glad there's been some episodes in between.

Ben Smith:                   He's very good.

Chris McLaughlin:         He's very good, and that Mood and Memory program is an all-star program as you now know nationally known for the work they're doing. I'd like to think the same about our pediatric programs. We offer a full continuum of services to the hospitals. So we have everything from traditional outpatient therapy and med management where kids pre COVID, were coming onsite and meeting with therapists, meeting with prescribers, meeting with case managers and doing that work. Now of course we're doing that all virtually and quite successfully, I will say.

Chris McLaughlin:         And so we have that lower, those lower acuity services, those lower levels of need. And then we go all the way up to inpatient services, where we have a couple units where kids come to us and stay with us for hopefully a short amount of time as possible so we can help. Sometimes it's a minor adjustment, sometimes it's some safety planning, sometimes it's trying to figure out a brand new path, a brand new treatment approach. But our goal is to get kids really out and back with families or back to their community environments and back to their outpatient teams.

Chris McLaughlin:         Then we have a program right in the middle of those two things. We have our pediatric day program where kids come onsite again, pre COVID and spend the day with us. It's a program that offers a little bit of schooling through our friends at Bangor School department. But for the day they are with clinicians and psychiatric technicians and nurses really working very intently on whatever challenges they're facing. That program can really run several months depending on what the kiddos motivation is and how quickly they kind of progress through their treatment phases.

Chris McLaughlin:         And then we have a community-based program. We have clinicians that we have out in schools all over the region who really are doing traditional school social work, and some outpatient therapy for kids in that school setting. It's a real barrier reduction approach to getting kids treatment without needing to miss school to travel to appointments.

Chris McLaughlin:         Unfortunately, just the state of kid services right now, it's not uncommon to have kids and families traveling two, sometimes three hours, one way from the County to come to their 45, 50 minute appointment. And so I will say I'm a silver linings guy, so this move to telehealth that COVID has brought all of us has really opened our eyes and our families' eyes to how we can deliver services more effectively and efficiently for everyone.

Ben Smith:                   I'm sure there's a lot of impact to that too. If you're having somebody travel to you two and three hours each way they just come out of the car, then they have to hurry to their 45 minute appointment. Maybe their mental state is a little bit different than if they were rested, they haven't been in a car, and perhaps in terms of services, it's more productive as a session too, right?

Chris McLaughlin:         It is. These are also kids that school attendance is really important for a whole lot of reasons. And as a lot of our kids are getting services at school, so missing a day of school a week or a day of school a month really is just not an acceptable solution for some of the kids and families that we're working with. It's a double-edged sword as well. They have to make a choice.

Ben Smith:                   So one of my questions is going to be for you, Chris is, when you were at 19 working with kids versus today, how has that changed? I know we just covered that, but other than tele-health, is there something there? But also I just would love to hear just how that's evolved, but then also how you think it's going to evolve. Because again, Maine is a pretty rural state. We are in a rural area of the state. Abby's in Portland sitting right now, so a little less so down in her neck of the woods.

Ben Smith:                   But in terms of the service center where you are in Bangor, is you have just a very large geographic reach and you're trying to support everybody and finding ways to support the need that's out there, which we show a big.

Chris McLaughlin:         Yeah, sure. Our goal and a big part of my role at the hospital is really to develop systems of care that can bring services outside of the brick and mortar facility. How do we bring services to kids and families? How do we deliver services in their natural environments, their own communities? And how do we partner more effectively with those communities, whether it's school, public safety, or other community providers, community stakeholders? How do we partner better to keep kids and families living together and intact?

Chris McLaughlin:         What we know is that kids tend to do better when they're surrounded by loved ones, just like all of us would. When we have support systems, natural support systems, we tend to do better. So while it is absolutely essential at times, and critical safety issues, when we have kids that need to come into our inpatient service, again, our goal is to get them out of that setting as quickly as possible and back to their natural support systems.

Chris McLaughlin:         That's really what Acadia is about, I think is having a well-defined system of care where we can intervene at every level of need from those really check-in appointments once a month, once a week, all the way into 24-hour care, and moving kids back and forth as needed.

Ben Smith:                   I would love to hear just, again from a personal bent is, always look when you go and ask somebody a question, what do you love about your job? I think that's when we're trying to get our listeners here of, "Hey, this is somebody that's really passionate about what they do." And that's always the question that is most meaningful to me is, what do you love about it? I love to ask you that question too, Chris is, what is it about it that really kind of gets you inspired?

Chris McLaughlin:         I love being at a point in my career and with an organization like Northern Light Acadia Hospital, where I have the ability to really impact the system. And that moving outside of my four walls of, this is where I treat kids and families, to really now looking at the system of service delivery, like creating new programs and developing approaches to tele-health and tele-psychiatry to get services where kids are.

Chris McLaughlin:         I love talking with families about what it is about their services that are working really well and what's not working. How do we fix that? I love, a big part of my role these days, especially is working with schools and parent organizations and other community groups to just support those people that are supporting our kids, like teachers, like parents, like families, like grandparents who are raising their kids, sometimes unexpectedly, how do we support the supporters?

Chris McLaughlin:         We're doing a lot of training right now on managing stress and anxiety during this pandemic, focusing on issues related to grief and loss that folks are experiencing during this time. We're in graduation season, we're in prom season, all of those pieces, this is spring sports season. So we're really doing a lot of work with teachers and parents on how do they best manage all the feelings that they're having so that they can be ready to support their kids.

Ben Smith:                   I want to give you a plug here too, Chris is, I know you had a really big project last year in terms of the Acadia CARES program. Because you talked about supporting people that are supporting these kids and sometimes they don't have resources, right. They don't know what to look for. They don't know what signs to spot in terms of where trouble is happening with the kids that they're looking after. Can you just spend a second on that Acadia CARES programs? I know it's actually gotten some really good national attention in terms of the quality and the level of work that was done.

Chris McLaughlin:         Yeah. Thanks for saying that, Ben. We partnered with a Bangor based video production company, Osborne media, and Hampton Academy and recruited some kids, a lot of kids actually. We filmed a seven-video series under this Acadia CARES umbrella. CARES stands for the Child Adolescent Resource and Educational Series. And really it was looking at kids' mental health and wellness through the lens of both suicide prevention and through resiliency.

Chris McLaughlin:         Our video series started with youth suicide prevention and walked through topics like eating disorders and anxiety, bullying, substance use, working with kids who are LGBTQ positive, and then ended that series on resiliency. Then we developed a box set that we created 500, and we were able to send this box sets of materials, the videos of facilitation guides, some crisis resources. We got that in the hands of schools and community organizations all over Maine, and are using that facilitation guide right now to do a lot of that training that I referenced. So thanks for saying that again.

Ben Smith:                   Well, Chris, why I brought that up too is, I think this is for anybody that is a stakeholder in a child's life is, hey, I care about this child for whatever relationship I have to them. Those videos give a lot of great tools, give a lot of warning signs of things to look for from experts on your team. And you don't have to be in Maine. You could be anywhere and take the five minutes to 10 minutes to look through them and go, Hey, I have concerns about this child. And in this case we're going to want to apply a lens of maybe a grandchild. But Hey, I'm trying to apply this and I'm seeing that they're not connecting with any because of this, this, and this concern. Maybe it is an eating disorder because I'm seeing them leave the kitchen table after having the meal. Maybe that's something I should look into and eat here.

Ben Smith:                   So we want to put those resources on our blog as well, so that our population that are listening or seeing this video, how they're consuming this content, they can then go and see these videos too. So I want to put that out there too. So it was just a toolbox regardless of the setting.

Chris McLaughlin:         Yeah. I'll make sure you have that resource. All the videos are able to be seen at no charge on our Northern Light Health, our landing page. There's also a link for folks to go to if they want to learn more and we are happy to provide any one-on-one coaching or consultation to anyone who calls and says, "Hey, I'm worried about my grandchild, my granddaughter, my nephew."

Chris McLaughlin:         For right, wrong, or indifferent, we are seeing a larger number of retirees who are caring, again, sometimes unexpectedly and in a very unplanned way, caring for their grandchildren. They are struggling with not just what their grandkids are going through, but also like, "This isn't how I envisioned my life at 67 years old. This isn't what I was supposed to be doing." But they have to be doing right.

Chris McLaughlin:         So with the opioid epidemic being what it is, we have grandparents who are grieving the loss of their own children who are dying by overdose, but are now raising their grandkids who are grieving the loss of their parents. And so these complicated factors it's no wonder that families are struggling lot right now. So we're-

Ben Smith:                   You have more of a generational disconnect too, right? That's where I want to go with you next, Chris is, sometimes you have, it's not just relating to your direct children, is, hey, we're in a 20, 30 years of difference or whatever that difference usually is. And connecting to kids well, it's different than how I grew up. Sometimes we have our framework that we apply on the next generation. Because I did it this way, you should do it that way.

Chris McLaughlin:         We're going to get into that for sure, Ben.

Ben Smith:                   So then even worse to say, now I'm two generations removed and you have kids that are all into Fortnite, and Minecraft, and TikTok videos. And here you have that and grandparents going, "I don't even know how to spell TikTok much less even what that thing is." My question really to you, Chris is, so how can an adult who is working with a younger child, how can they, if they don't have a relationship with them?

Ben Smith:                   So start from a neutral perspective first. They just don't really have a really existing relationship that's great. How can they start moving it from a foundational relationship again, parent to child, to something more, again, grandparent to child in their retirement? That's really the fundamental question we want to start with you.

Chris McLaughlin:         Yeah. The first thing I will say is that I was thinking about that question and I was thinking about the parallel to the work that folks do to get towards retirement. And really, it's about attacking that goal and committing to the goal and dedicating resources to that goal. And so if the goal is, I want to have a relationship with my grandkids, then sometimes it's helpful to have a relationship advisor kind of plot out those steps with you, or think through those steps that I'm hoping that this podcast can kind of act as that advisor for some.

Chris McLaughlin:         But really it's about the commitment to the goal, and it's probably the things that the three of you say to your clients every single day. You're like, "Remember your plan, remember your commitment to that plan, stay focused on the end results, stay focused on the goal, stay on the prize." And so relationships with family members falls into that same camp for me.

Chris McLaughlin:         The second thing I'll say is that it's got to be genuine, it's got to be authentic, and it's got to be intentional. Kids today see right through any of that, anything fake, anything non-genuine. They're experts at that more so than any of us. And so folks have got to be really committed to the goal, but intentional and genuine on the goal.

Chris McLaughlin:         I think it's about focusing on empathy. Find the things that we have in common with each other, not focus on those things that set you apart. So like you said, Ben, it's really easy to be like, "Well, that's not what I did when I was in high school. I had my first job at 14 years old." But we spend a lot of time, it's really just human nature to kind of focus on what differs us from each other.

Chris McLaughlin:         And so you got to flip that script and really work on building the connection of what brings us together. Put the kid in the place of teaching you. Make the kid the expert, and show again, genuineness. You mentioned Minecraft, it's the grandparents sitting with the kid and saying, "You know what? I want to learn about this game. You love this game. You show me what you love about this game." Put that kid in the teacher role.

Abby Doody:                 Yeah, that's great. What about connecting with kids in different adolescent stages? So every stage is going to be a little bit different. How do those differ and what tips would you give for connecting at each of those different stages?

Chris McLaughlin:         Yeah, that's a really good point. The way I would tackle a relationship building with a 16 year old is very different than with a six year old. And so some of it is kind of keeping in mind that each of those age groups need a little bit something different from the adults in their life.

Chris McLaughlin:         And so when I think about kids, the elementary school age, lower middle school grades, they are so hungry for recognition. They want to show you their schoolwork. They want to put it up on their refrigerator. They want to show you their hobbies and what they found in the yard and what they've created in the sandbox. The kind of feedback they need has got to be constructive. They don't want to be criticized. They don't want to be told what they're doing is wrong.

Chris McLaughlin:         I think that's something that we sometimes trip ourselves up with, is we want to do it for them and show them the right way it should be done, but we've got to let them. Kids need to explore and experiment with that with the guidance of trusted adults around them.

Chris McLaughlin:         Conversely, when you think about adolescents, they need something really different. They don't want anybody coaching them or telling them really outwardly what they should be doing. They don't want you to get them to conform or push your viewpoints on them. They need really the permission to explore who they are.

Chris McLaughlin:         They're really looking to their peers and role models, and I think grandparents and extended family members are sometimes in the perfect position to be the role model for them because they're not mom and dad. They're one step removed from mom and dad. They have all the stories about what mom and dad did naughty when they were young.

Chris McLaughlin:         And so I think grandparents can partner really effectively with adolescents and sometimes at the expense, lighthearted expense of birth parents as well.

Curtis Worcester:         Chris, to follow up on that, I know we've kind of talked around it at this point. Can we talk about just generally some things you see the older generation do wrong or mistakes commonly you see when dealing with younger kids or younger generations?

Chris McLaughlin:         Yeah, sure. My precursor is I tend to try to be both personally and professionally like, "Here's what you should be doing." I try not to do the finger wag and tell people you're doing that all wrong, even though that's probably what my face sometimes shows outwardly.

Chris McLaughlin:         But I think it's important to just be upfront about, here are things that aren't going to work with kids of all ages. And so whenever you start the conversation of, "When I was your age, we had to blank or when I was your age, they made me blank." That idea, that comparison piece, that sometimes has that twinge of guilt or shame underneath it, it's that message of you should be doing it this other way. That's not going to work. You're not going to be a conversation starter.

Chris McLaughlin:         I think older generations sometimes have an idea that the iron fist is the right or the only approach, and the youth of today are not going to be moved by iron fist. They're going to rebel at all ages. And so older generations, I think have to challenge themselves to find other motivators and find ways to engage cooperation instead of forcing compliance, which is a challenge. It takes some creativity to do that.

Chris McLaughlin:         Finally, I think power struggles. Regardless of the age of the caregiver, power struggles are the number one thing folks in my shoes are trying to coach family members out of. Power struggles tend to come up when values are being forced upon or instilled or when heels get locked in.

Chris McLaughlin:         The stories I think about our kids that are forced to sit at the dining room table and you can't leave until you finish all of your blank. These are kids that will absolutely wait out. They're there till midnight sometimes. The struggle becomes much bigger than what the, you need to eat your vegetables, conversation ones.

Chris McLaughlin:         And so we've got to avoid power struggles at all costs. They lead to resentment and chips on shoulders, which then just makes that relationship goal even harder to achieve.

Ben Smith:                   Chris, I want to just kind of reply to it too, because from our end, when we're working with this population directly instead of trying to reach the kids there, and you see a lot of, I don't want to use the bad connotation of the word, but there's a lot of rigid thinking, right? They've created in their mind a construct of, here's how it has to be, and there's absolutes. It's either it's binary outcomes. It's going to be all good or all bad.

Ben Smith:                   I think where a lot of work that we try to do with them is start breaking that up and going, "Let's start with the goal and then look at the path." So there's lots of paths to get to those goals. And if you're trying to achieve a certain level of attainment or happiness or satisfaction, but to your point about, "Hey, I want them to eat healthier. Is it that I have to have them sit down at this table right now and eat all of the food groups that I put in front of them, even if their taste buds are screaming at them, and basically their gag reflexes are engaging. But they have to be this because that's what happened to me is my broccoli was forced on me like George Bush."

Ben Smith:                   That sort of stuff, I don't know. I think we all can kind of start getting into that mode is, "Nope. This is the way it is. This is what we're going to do and you're going to conform or else."

Chris McLaughlin:         The four words that caregivers of any age should be most mindful of and cringe when they come out of your mouth is, "Because I said so." That carries zero merit for kids of any age. And so it's easy to say forwards and expect a response. What's tougher but much more effective is finding that middle ground. It's engaging a conversation and, "Here's what I hear you saying you want. Here's what I hope you're hearing grandpa saying he wants. How do we meet in the middle? Maybe it's you don't need all your peas, but maybe you try the peas and we move on to the next phase of the evening."

Ben Smith:                   Actually, I have that with my son directly a lot. But because in our senses we're just going to have an open and honest conversation here is like, "Hey, we're concerned about the food choices we're making and these are the concerns we have and why that's concerning to us. So can we find a way that here's a menu of things we know you do like that can balance this a little bit more and give the control back to them of, Hey, here's the parameters, you do that."?

Ben Smith:                   But it becomes an open dialogue a lot, and it feels like we're ending that meal time better. He's feeling like, "Well, I want to control in this relationship. You gave some to me and I got to eat something I liked instead of something that you forced me I did not like."

Chris McLaughlin:         Yeah. Knowing your son, I absolutely see that. But as I said earlier, you're giving your son at that age exactly what they need. They need the parameters, but the control. I say to families all the time, you want to save the, because I said so, for absolute safety issues. Whether it's around, I don't know, driving or substance use, or for younger kids being near mom when she's cooking on a hot stove, the because I said so, have to be related to safety and in the moment concerns that you can then back up and explain later.

Abby Doody:                 Shifting gears and we touched on it a little bit, about some of the myths of this generation of kids. We've kind of alluded to it a little bit, about their behaviors, but what are some of those common myths that you hear, and are these new trends or are these repeating? What are your thoughts around it?

Chris McLaughlin:         Yeah. I did a little bit of research. I'm a social work nerd and I embrace it. I did a little bit of research and not surprisingly, there's a lot of folks way smarter than me who have talked about these generational gaps and differences going back now 60 or 70 years.

Chris McLaughlin:         And so a lot of what stereotypes of this current young generation are, are the same exact stereotypes that were 20 years ago and 20 years before that and 20 years before that. So every generation thinks that the current generation has it easier than they ever had. That Things are handed to them, that they're spoiled, they've gotten lazy, they've gotten weak, they're not prepared to live in the world that we live in. And really I think it's that spare the rod spoil the child, that iron fist approach. Every generation thinks that that's what the current generation needs, as much as we hated the generation above us thinking that about us. And that's empathy. We've lost touch of the things that triggered our responses and now we're imposing them.

Chris McLaughlin:         But here's the fact and it's a bit of a sobering fact. Kids today are experiencing rates of depression and anxiety that no other generation have ever dealt with. Suicide rates for kids are increasing year after year, especially in populations that we always thought had some built-in resiliency like adolescent girls. The lethality of adolescent girls is increasing year after year.

Chris McLaughlin:         This generation of kids absolutely has the cards stacked against them more so than I think other generations ever would know. It's easy to take for granted that this generation of youth have grown up with Facebook. They've grown up with smartphones, they've grown up with 24-hour news cycles. The impact that all of those things have in a cumulative way on kids, you could fill novels with.

Chris McLaughlin:         And so we're working with a generation that's unlike any other generation previously because of just the way the world has changed around them. Make no mistake, we'll be talking about the impacts of the coronavirus on kids for years to come. We cannot rule out what this current pandemic is doing to kids and we won't know for years to come really.

Chris McLaughlin:         But I think it's what's important is again, to step back and remember what it was like to be a kid and what it was like to have your grandparents or your parents call you lazy or tell you to get off the couch and get a job, and our parents before that to get out of the get off the couch and get a haircut. And it just goes back so far. It's empathy.

Ben Smith:                   Yeah. I'll add to that too, Chris is it seems like sometimes we have this in our mind and it can cause a negative relationship with somebody, is all of a sudden I came into retirement thinking I have all this time, I have other resources too, maybe even financial assets and I'm trying to use this to apply it to go, "How can I better my life, but also I get peace by bettering either my kid's life or my grandkids life?"

Ben Smith:                   And that I can only imagine as you lose a child to the opioid addiction and all of a sudden you're inheriting a grandchild, and now all of a sudden it's like, "Hey, I'm coping and grieving from a loss I never thought of, and it's an eye on me to make sure our family continues to grow and achieve. I have to jump into that role, to continue and foster this family relationship."

Ben Smith:                   So it seems like sometimes you could see where parents or grandparents could start on a bad note with the kids or they just are in a rut. I was at a conference one time and one of the speakers there was asked the question about this, "I have a better relationship with my son and my concern is I can't just get out of this bad rut is he does something, I'm annoyed, I then punish him, he gets more upset and we just continue to go round and round the circle." The speaker then asked the question, which I thought was one of the best things he offered was, "When was the last time you went on a date with your son? When was the last time you extract yourselves from the situation and said, what's something we can do together that brings us together and we enjoy a moment of happiness, and enjoy a moment of us connecting back together?"

Ben Smith:                   That's something I've used when we've talked to people when we're hearing that feedback of, when have you done that? But I'm interested in your take here is when people are stuck in that rut, that's just one specific thing I've heard and thought of. But what steps can someone take to get that relationships to a better place that maybe doesn't include that or there's other things that they could do to get there?

Chris McLaughlin:         Yeah. One thing I have been guilty of saying over the last several years is asking the question of my parents and grandparents, who's the adult in this relationship? I don't mean that in the sense of, who's in charge? I mean that in the sense of, who's of the maturity level? Who's of the intellectual level? Who can we expect to rise above the cycle, the back and forth? Is it that the eight year old? Nope. Nope. Is it the 68 year old? Yeah, I think that's a fair expectation.

Chris McLaughlin:         And so sometimes it takes a lot to unplug, to disengage and to rise above and intentionally break the cycle. I keep coming back to that word about intentionality because I think it really has to drive your actions and what you're doing. You've got to have a plan. You've got to have an end goal. And it's got to be starting slow when there's rough waters under those bridges, you can't jump into it all at once and expect it to come out as hope, great as you would hope.

Chris McLaughlin:         You got to start slow. There's baby steps that you can do. Sometimes it's communicating via notes or cards in the mail or emails or recorded messages. But it's finding alternatives to the lock of the verbal argument. You've got to find a way around that and don't afraid to ask for help. Sometimes help is engaging parents if they're present or other family members or engaging professionals.

Chris McLaughlin:         Our region is really rich in terms of supports for grandparents who are raising kids. There's support groups happening all the time for grandparents who have found themselves in this situation, or grandparents who are providing childcare, maybe not raising the child in the sense that they're living there, but grandparents who are primary caregivers when there are working parents.

Chris McLaughlin:         And so there's support and help available, training and education, but mostly just the peer support of somebody else saying, "Yep, I know what that feels like. I've been there."

Ben Smith:                   I'd like to ask just specifically that, Chris, is to say because one thing to say there's support available, but I'd love to go, "Hey, I'm in a situation right now. Maybe I have inherited a grandchild that I'm taking care of, or maybe I'm providing daycare to that child because my kids themselves are working. I'm providing care myself and I feel unprepared. I feel I'm unprepared. I feel like I am under-trained, maybe I'm under appreciated." I don't know.

Ben Smith:                   There's a lot of feelings of that. How would they engage with maybe with your organization, Chris, or where would they go? It's like, "I need help. I'm thinking of this right now. I don't know where to go. I feel very siloed. I feel very alone and I feel like I can't even maybe talk to other people about this because it maybe this insecurity challenge." What are you talking about? How hard is it to take care of Johnny? That's not a good deal, right?

Chris McLaughlin:         Yeah. As I mentioned, we are always there to be a resource, whether it's a service we can provide or not, we're happy to talk with folks and point them in the right direction. 211, here in Maine is also a great resource. There are grandparents supports that you can find locally here in the greater Bangor area.

Chris McLaughlin:         Actually, I think this is a statewide organization. Adoptive and foster families of Maine, AFFM provides support groups for family members, typically elder family members who are suddenly fostering or are raising, have adopted their grandkids for whatever reasons, things that we mentioned earlier. But I think 211 is an excellent resource for these grandparents' supports.

Ben Smith:                   And then they would be connected right to here's the agency, here's the nonprofit, here's a group, whatever.

Chris McLaughlin:         Referral numbers calls. Eastern Area Agency on Aging, I know you also had Dyan Walsh, is a dear friend of mine. Dyan came on your show. Dyan is a wealth of knowledge of what's available for grandparents in this region as well.

Ben Smith:                   Yeah. Because I think it's important to just have something specific to say, "Okay, when you need help, the first place you got to go is 211." Here's where you need to go because it just feels like they will do a call Northern Light Acadia Hospital, but now I know it's a hospital, and am I going to get charged something because of that?

Chris McLaughlin:         Yeah, I would start with 211, and then I think as the needs of the child escalate, there are additional resources. The G.E.A.R. Parent Network, G-E-A-R Parent Network is an organization that's parent run. And that's specific for parents or family members of all ages who are caretaking for kids with special needs. They run educations and trainings and support groups and one-on-one sessions. But it's parents talking to parents and there's a lot of power in that approach as well.

Abby Doody:                 So just shifting gears a little bit, so retirees generally have more financial assets available to them, right? Which is something that we certainly help with all the time. How can that be useful in helping with family relationships? So no financial advice here, but just giving some assistance on how to maybe they can use those resources to build family relationships, or is there a better way of going about this versus maybe not such a great way about going about it? What are your thoughts on that?

Chris McLaughlin:         Yeah, it's a great question. Again, it's about intentionality, and I always encourage grandparents before you go out and buy X, Y, or Z, you might want to make sure that parents are okay with X, Y, or Z. Don't go buying your grandchild a car if they just turned in an all F report card, and that's not going to fly with mom and dad. So it's got to be done, I think in collaboration, and it's got to be intentional. You can't buy true love. It may feel like you're buying the relationship, but we know that that just doesn't exist.

Chris McLaughlin:         It's, I think taking an interest in that youth activities, supporting their hobbies go a long way. I think about kids who are building models, or flying drones, or are into photography. Grandparents who can buy that drone, that next drone up or buy that next camera quality up could really help support the hobby, support mom and dad and make their presence really be known that they're here to help and they're taking an active interest in these hobbies.

Chris McLaughlin:         The other thing I know for folks that they find this in their budget, the vacations together. I know many friends whose grandparents have done weeks at a camp, or family cruises, or times in Disney together. Buying the experience or providing the pathway towards the experience, I think can also be a really unique way to create some memories. That's really what that's about for a lot of retirees.

Ben Smith:                   I want to add to that, Chris too, is we had Maria MacDougal, on from Finance Authority of Maine the other day. That was one thing that she talked about was intentionality, was what you've brought up as a major theme with kids and she used that too, which I like that you guys are aligned there, was with intentionality around college planning because if you say, "Hey, I have a college account for you." And they're age five and they're age seven, they continue to hear that, they start building in their own expectation about going to college and they know there's money earmarked for it and they're working towards it, and good grades, plus the work that they do, plus these resources that we're all building together, allows you that opportunity to get there.

Ben Smith:                   Not saying you have to do it, but we have kind of remove roadblocks for you to get to it. So I like that she had a whole track on intentionality from my grandparents' perspective to a grandchild that you're kind of saying a lot of parenting skills are really around that anyway.

Chris McLaughlin:         For sure. Absolutely. Absolutely. I love the idea of supporting college or vocational training, or it might be supporting the kid's first attempt at independent living, helping kids with a security deposit for their first apartment. But again, I think it's those kinds of things have got to be done in collaboration with the child's parents, just to make sure that visions and values are aligned.

Curtis Worcester:         Chris, this conversation to this point, we've been kind of talking from the older generation's perspective, if you will. I kind of want to switch that around. What are some things that you see that really cause the kids to turn off to that relationship where their grandparents, even if the grandparents are doing everything that we've talked about to this point? They're doing everything right. What are you seeing there and any kind of tips or suggestions you have for a grandparent who may be experiencing that?

Chris McLaughlin:         Kids are going to be kids. Again, you could do everything right and have it still blow up in your face. And so it's important to not keep that kind of mental scorecard in your head that, "Well, I've given them X many chances and I'm done." That's not how relationships work. Relationships have to be unconditional. And so it may be 10 strikes or 15 strikes.

Chris McLaughlin:         Kids don't want to feel like things are being forced on them. Again, this is kids of all ages. So the one size approach, one size fits all approach, doesn't work really well with kids at all. I would say that we talked about this earlier, that kids are going to sniff out the lack of being genuine, and they're going to sniff out when somebody is trying to buy their love and affection.

Chris McLaughlin:         I think that sometimes other generations feel like you can talk through the problem incessantly. And so if every time I see my grandfather, they're going to lecture me about why studying math is so important, or why I should start watching NASCAR, or why I should support the Patriots, my time with that person is going to start dropping dramatically.

Chris McLaughlin:         And so I think grandparents need to dust off that insight, that inner voice that makes you stop and pause and go, "I'm listening to myself and this is not going well. I should probably stop now." I think that's a really important skill for all of us to have. But certainly for folks who are trying to foster some different caliber of relationships.

Chris McLaughlin:         I also think there's safety in numbers. And so making these relationships full family affairs, so getting gatherings, getting groups, engaging the aunts and the uncles, if there's cousins, make this not just about this one grandchild or this one sibling set. Make this truly about improving my relationships with my family. And for larger families, starting new memories and new traditions of family gatherings or family barbecues or that same weekend every year that we're all going to gather at grandparent's house and do lawn games or those kinds of events.

Chris McLaughlin:         But making it full family and having that safety in numbers, it takes the pressure off you and more importantly, it takes the pressure off that one kid who really is the target of your efforts.

Ben Smith:                   I would like to, I know this is maybe a COVID-19 related question, Chris. I think in some ways by design shelter-in-place, and especially with a population with maybe perhaps increased health risks that they're required to stay away from more and more populations right now.

Ben Smith:                   Again, we're recording this in the middle of May, so going forward this might be changing. But obviously with relationships, it's all about time, is what I've experienced. The more time they spend with you, the more I get to know you, the more we're going to foster a relationship. And again, there can be positives and negatives to that too.

Ben Smith:                   But right now it seems like there is a very specific challenge where it's like, I want to go spend time with you and I want to do this, but I can't. Maybe I can't come see you. So obviously Zoom, which is a recording vehicle we're using right now anyway and people are using it, and all that data that they're exposed to.

Ben Smith:                   But maybe in addition to Zoom, are there ways that we can use it, maybe technology or other ways that we can still have a relationship, build a connection, keep fostering and spending time with each other, that maybe we weren't doing before or maybe we can incorporate going forward?

Chris McLaughlin:         Yeah. I'm going to say something that's really counter to what you may be expecting me to say and I'm going to say, avoid Zoom at all costs. Kids are spending the vast majority of their day in some remote learning environment. They're getting services, they're getting their friend time. Zoom fatigue is absolutely real as I'm sure you have come to find out in the last couple of months as well.

Chris McLaughlin:         So it really is we've got to think about, what's efficient, but what's also going to be effective? And so I would encourage grandparents to embrace apps like Snapchat, or Marco Polo, or even FaceTime. But those kinds of apps where they're designed to be quick snippets, you can use funny filters, you can make it a sort of a, this is our thing that we always talk to each other and our squeaky voice filters are our old band filters or what have you.

Chris McLaughlin:         But there's a formality with Zoom right now that I think it's going to be natural for kids, especially adolescents to want to rebel against. Zoom is where I do my schooling. Zoom is where I do my counseling appointment. Zoom is where mom sets play dates up for us. So trying to find clever but quick ways to engage with each other, recordings, apps like Voxer that allow you to record messages back and forth, find ways to read stories aloud together, buy the same kid book for home and the same kid book that's our chapter book that's at grandpa's house and read them together over the phone.

Chris McLaughlin:         I think one of the things we've learned is that the visual is really helpful, but it's not the most essential part of virtual conversation and communication right now. Embrace the postal service, send cards in the mail, put together pandemic survival kits. Again, it's about getting to know each other, create a scavenger hunt where you can send challenges to each other in the mail and things like escape rooms, creating your own way of solving puzzles together or things you have to collaborate on instead of compete on, scrapbooking and photos.

Chris McLaughlin:         There's all of this technology that allows you to share a journal back and forth. I love the idea of doing writing prompts. And so for kids, our art prompts, coloring prompts, draw your favorite memory, what does this music make you think of? And ways that you can communicate across generations without feeling like you've got to be in front of your screen for one more formal meeting.

Ben Smith:                   Chris, I got to say that was one, as you said, 180 degrees from where I thought you were going to go. I was like, "You just hop on a Zoom and see everybody else." That's great. I did not expect you to kind of go there.

Chris McLaughlin:         In fact, I worry that the kids' exhaustion from some of this technology could be interpreted as a lack of interest or unlocking investment in their part. It could be interpreted to the grandparent of, "Well, they don't want to have a relationship with me." Again, it's empathy. These are kids that are sometimes spending five, six, seven hours a day in virtual learning environments. The last thing they want to do is one more at 7:00 PM.

Ben Smith:                   That's what we're, again with our kind of clients as they're getting into retirement, they have a vast wealth of time, right? And they go, "What are my barriers?" One of their barriers usually it's a technology barrier that they maybe are having trouble there. So you can kind of go, "All right. Well, what are the barriers? Let's then spend time on educating you on Snapchat. Let's figure out a way to get you trained on Snapchat so you are functional to have a better relationship with your child."

Ben Smith:                   If it is a six-hour project for you to get versed in Snapchat, that's really a good use of six hours of your time. So all of these are minor investments to get there, but you have the time to do it.

Chris McLaughlin:         Really, everybody's doing Zoom right now. If a grandkid says, "Guys, look what the Snapchat grandma sent to me. This is our thing. This is what we do." It really is about creating the shared experience that's novel and unique and it becomes something that is really a source of pride for both the retiree and the kid that, "This is what me and grandma do. We read these stories back and forth in funny voices using crazy filters."

Ben Smith:                   I love it. That's phenomenal. Thank you for that.

Curtis Worcester:         Chris, as we approach the end of our episode, there's one thing that we love to do. I personally love it. I think everyone loves it. We'd like to change it up and ask one kind of bucket list question if you will. Obviously the name of the podcast, Retirement Success in Maine, what is your vision for your own retirement, and then what you see being a successful retirement for yourself?

Chris McLaughlin:         Yeah. That I think is the hardest question you have asked me so far. We've referenced a couple of your other guests and a really good friend of mine, Keri Hetherman was another guest on your show and I loved her podcast. I loved her episode with you because everything she talked about from a travel advisor perspective was right up my alley. I just couldn't get enough of that.

Chris McLaughlin:         And so for me and my family, it's really about travel and experiencing places and seeing things that we just haven't had the time or resources for right now. Carrie is my retirement success guru. She's who I want to be when that time comes for me.

Ben Smith:                   I think she's still our number one listened episode.

Chris McLaughlin:         So far, Ben.

Ben Smith:                   So far. You're going to beat it I know.

Chris McLaughlin:         Don't count this out.

Ben Smith:                   Yes. We got to get this viral, Chris. That's something where we hear a lot is, "Hey, I like travel, something I just didn't get to do or I want to do as much of." So I appreciate you sharing that. That sounds like a lot fun.

Chris McLaughlin:         Yeah. That is definitely my dream.

Ben Smith:                   Well, Chris, thank you for being on the show. Appreciate you sharing your knowledge with us. Hope to have you back at another point because I know there's about 40 more questions we could have gone through today. But, thanks so much. We really appreciate it.

Chris McLaughlin:         Yeah. I really appreciate the invite to come on. I think what you guys do is really amazing. I hope this is a topic that folks find more interesting than travel.

Ben Smith:                   All right, Chris, take care. Be well.

Chris McLaughlin:         Thank you so much.

Ben Smith:                   So getting a better relationship with kids and grandkids, right? So good topic today. Again, Chris McLaughlin of course, a really great expertise bringing him to the show. So good to have him here. I think that's something where you don't realize in the state of Maine what type of resources you have and what sort of expertise, so good to have him here from that end.

Ben Smith:                   We always like to wrap up our shows, of course, with lessons that we like to highlight and things that we learned. Maybe, Abby, could you start and bat us off in terms of the lesson that you took away from Chris's talk with us today?

Abby Doody:                 Yeah, absolutely. What I really liked him talking about was the aspect of empathy and how important it is in relationships, especially with kids and grandparents or kids and parents. I think empathy is often overlooked or maybe even undervalued. Putting yourself in somebody else's shoes, feeling what they're feeling can help you build that relationship.

Abby Doody:                 The way he put it, it was a pretty foundational aspect of relationships. So I think that's always something helpful to keep in mind when working on building relationships with anybody really.

Ben Smith:                   Yeah. I really liked it because again, his whole statement about who was the adult is, are you expecting that young one to go invest all this time in getting a better relationship with you as the grandparents? When you pose it like that, well, obviously that's not probably going to happen. There's going to be things you're going to do that's going to be out of your comfort zone.

Ben Smith:                   You're going to learn. I have to learn Snapchat. I never thought I was going to have to learn that. Spend five hours on YouTube, figure out which button to push and how long it filters and stuff. So yeah, you kind go, "I see where that's a challenge, but it's not insurmountable." So having the empathy makes you motivated to want to do it. That was a really good point.

Ben Smith:                   Curtis, from your end, was there something that you took away that you would like to vote Chris's talk with us?

Curtis Worcester:         Yeah. It was kind of small and scope of the whole conversation. I think he referred to it as the four most important words or the four words he stresses the most to not use is the, I told you so. And more so the idea he had with saving the, I told you so, was for the really important moments. It's, don't sit there and scold a child or grandchild and say, "Eat your green beans because I told you so." It's more so the, "Drive safe with your friends." Or he brought up substance use and things like that.

Curtis Worcester:         It's the idea of really saving it for when it counts. Sort of the different way of looking at the boy who cried wolf. If the kid hears, I told you so, all the time, he's like, "Well, so what?" I thought that was really interesting.

Ben Smith:                   Yeah, because it's missing the why, right? Part of parenting is help them understand the situation and why this would maybe a big choice, why that's a bad choice. Letting them choose still and giving them freedom and control and power is always important. But having those parameters so that here's a new situation we haven't talked about, you can work through it yourself and go from there. So that's a big one.

Ben Smith:                   For me, I know we just concluded with it, but we're using this technology ourselves, Zoom, right? And the three of us, of course, we're doing a lot of meetings on Zoom right now. A lot of our clients are reaching out to us and we're doing, I wouldn't say a majority of our day, but a good part of our day is using video technology and to then go, "Hey, by the way, you want to have a relationship with somebody or you want to just take time out of your personal time using this?"

Ben Smith:                   I can see where this is a fatiguing thing. This is school for kids, work for adults is we're all into this, and probably this is something in some manner of our lives will stay is using this sort of technology going forward. So then relying on even more to build your personal relationships. I could see where that's a negative connotated thing that we maybe shouldn't do.

Ben Smith:                   I liked how he gave some tips of using the postal service and writing letters or making scavenger hunts or finding, as he said, other technologies to use that are maybe more on their terms and less kind of connotated to the things that are maybe more professional or more structured or rigid in their life. I thought that was a really good takeaway, which people can use right now is, don't force it. I think there's other ways that you can be fun, be light and try to reach that child or grandchild by the way.

Ben Smith:                   Well, thank you all for attending our show today. So we are episode 19.

Curtis Worcester:         Getting up there.

Ben Smith:                   19. Our last teenage year here. If you want more resources, Chris gave us a bunch. He's actually going to give us a bunch he said offline that we can use to share with you as well in addition to the Acadia CARES videos. But you can go to blog.guidancepointllc.com/19. So go to that website. There'll be this show page. You'll have the transcription. You'll have all those links that Chris shared with us, anything you need, hopefully where you can find to better your relationship with your grandkids.

Ben Smith:                   But thank you for tuning into the Retirement Success in Maine podcast. We really appreciate your listenership, appreciate you tuning in. We'll see you next time.


Topics: Pre-Retirement, In Retirement, Podcast