Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Elder Care

Not all members of "The Greatest Generation" are so great. I know that's blasphemy in some parts, but as Baby Boomers dealing with aging parents know, it's true. My family on both sides are cases in point.

Both sides of the family dealt with divorce and remarriage before the Boomers made it en vogue. The resulting mish-mosh lead to difficult financial decisions (one side of the kids paying, the other side saying "screw dad" which left the step-kids paying). In all cases, the husbands (the second and sometimes third ones) died first. In all cases, Boomer kids are taking care of parents either in their own home or at a near-by facility. In two cases the surviving mom had to be moved to another city. In one case, a child and wife moved to be near the mom.

None of these families have story-book histories. Abuse, alcohol, philandering, and all kinds of nonsense created disruptive home-lives for the kids (now middle-aged Boomers). So when mom was widowed and enfeebled, the kids thought, "hey, we can spend the twilight years together and make up for what we never had."

It's not happening.

In their aged years, these unhappy people are not suddenly sweet little old ladies. They're pissed. They are in a new town. They miss their friends. They have new doctors (in two cases their health is improving because the new doctors are taking them off unnecessary meds that their geriatric, life-long physicians had them on). They don't want to be told that they are healthy and well. And they are 1) screaming at their children in rage or 2) delivering silent treatments for days. In short, nothing has changed from the childhood years. Everyone is just older.

From a distance, I see romantic expectations on the part of the kids. (That isn't to say I could handle it any better. It is an emotionally excruciating place.) From a distance, I see parents who have lived narcissistic lives and continue to do so--adding that to the indignities and disruptions that the latest life-changing events have brought. Even ideal personalities with cozy family relationships would find these upheavals challenging. Layer on psychopathology, and it's miserable.

Why do I bring this up? Because while the Boomers care for their parents, most of them had intact families. My family is a generation ahead of itself and a warning for the future. With all the divorce and remarriage, kids are put in a real bind. An only child (remember the birthrate is 1.2) may have two sets of parents to care for himself--and what if he's married to another only child? On top of that, the emotion and disillusionment can be quite devastating for those trying to reconnect to parents who never really connected to begin with.

What's the answer? I don't know. Aging Boomers will pose diverse challenges economically and personally. Children will face caring for parents and step-parents who mistreated or neglected them. It's the step-parent thing that is even more problematic.

Legal resources here.


Anonymous said...

Strange that you posted on this today. This topic just came up with us yesterday. My husband had a alcoholic father who emotionally never was there for him. His parents divorced and re-married. His father's health is poor and the relationship with his son is strained.

My fathers health is poor as well, major heart problems. He has never saved a penny in his life, I've even slept in the car before because he did not have money to get a place. We now sent him money each month. He never was there for me ever, and once we were together he was abusive physically and sexually. It is difficult to know what to do. It makes one more determined to do our job as parents, hopefully a little better. I hope and pray!!! Thank you for this post!

Carol Bradley Bursack said...

I write an elder care column and receive many questions along this line. People like to think all families were "the Waltons." Most were not. Some have more issues than others, but the strain shows heavily as a generation ages and the boomer's begin to be caregivers.

You are so right - your family background is what is going to be more and more common, with multiple marriages, step-siblings and other complications. These will be interesting times.

A very good post. I'll be adding a link to your blog from mine at

David Solie said...

Dealing with aging parents is far more complicated then anyone of the boomer generation ever imagined. Once you enter the "tough choices" zone, it gets even more problematic. I published an article for boomers about how to communicate tough choices to aging parents that echoes the issues of the blog post. The link is on the top, right-hand side of my web page:

Thanks of your candid comments,

David Solie, MS, PA
Author, How To Say It To Seniors: Closing the Communication Gap with Our Elders
800-225-9844, extension 132

Anonymous said...

In situations such as this post describes, I wonder if socialized care is not the better way after all.

If the Boomers themselves have difficult marriages, or getting divoreced...(as you mentioned it seems to be in vogue with our generation), and, if there is a job change or lay off, it makes it all the more difficult for them to take care of their aging parents.

This is a very difficult problem that so many of us are facing or will be facing.

Dr. Melissa said...

One of the links mentions that Boomers are more likely than their parents to care for the elderly. I think there are a couple reasons for this: the mortality rate has declined. People are living longer. The financial specter of having an aged parent in an Old Folks Home for twenty years is crazy.

Also, the Boomers would love for their parents to show demonstrable love.

With the Gen X generation having children late--imagine the crunch. Children at home and aging parents. Wrap divorce into this equation.

Not good. Is socializing the elder years the answer? Not a good one. Americans don't do so well with any form of welfare. Remember the bleak Insane Asylums of the 70s? Can you imagine Boomers putting up with that?

Of course, as we age, we don't have many choices in the matter. Be nice to your children.

Anonymous said...

Socialized care is not really welfare though. European pay a hefty amount out of each pay check to have socialized care. But I do know what you are saying. I don't think it's the answer either. But we do have a delima, don't we?