This past weekend, my sister and I were pondering the rationale behind the common desire of many elders in America today that they “not become a burden” on their children.
One question is: How did we get to this point? It seems obvious that for the vast majority of human history, and presumably in most cultures around the world today, multi-generational living situations have been and are the norm. The nuclear family concept is unique to western civilization in the 20th century.
Certainly pride is a big factor. Today’s elders don’t want their children to see them as weak or vulnerable. And more than that, I think, they don’t want to become subservient to their children. This is a proud bunch that fought and won great wars, lifted themselves up economically, and bore their burdens in quiet. It is important to these elders that their children see them as independent and strong. They don’t want to have their children help them toilet.
It is curious, although largely unrelated, that such a high percentage of soldier’s coming back from the recent military campaigns seek treatment for post-traumatic stress syndrome, while so few of the veterans of Vietnam, Korea or WWII disclosed any form of emotional impact. They were impacted no doubt, and saw at least as much gore, but they handled it differently. It is the nature of this generation, I think, that they kept it to themselves.
It is also probably relevant that while the current generation of elders took in their parents when they became older, becoming older back then meant turning 60. Their parents didn’t live to be 80, 90, or 100. And more importantly, their parents didn’t live long enough to become demented, to be alive but childlike, needing assistance with the activities of daily living. That’s a whole different deal, and we are the first generation to have to address this challenge. It is one thing to have grandma sitting at the dinner table every night. It is quite another to have to feed and bathe her.
Another question is: Will we, the baby boomers, feel the same way? Will we want our children to care for us? Will the nuclear family prove to be a short-lived experiment?
Part of the answer to this question is economic. As speculated in other blogs herein, and barring a breakthrough in treatment of dementia, it seems predictable that our government will not be providing the same level of services to the next generation of elders that has been provided to this generation. That means the difference between being cared for by your children and living on what the government will provide, or what you can privately afford, may be much starker.
We may be motivated to impose on our children out of necessity if nothing else. In addition, we may have a different sense of pride, and a different take on what our children owe us. In light of what parents go through raising children, doesn’t it seem altogether appropriate and just that the children share some of the challenges that come with the aging process?