As a 30-something in the US, I find myself and my generation in a bit of a strange conundrum. For the first time perhaps ever, our generation is facing a reality where we might be worse off than our parents. This fact is mentioned to us all the time. It’s on the news. It’s in the reports the Department of Labor sends out. It’s in economic and healthcare forecasts. It seems to be everywhere.

How did we get here? How is it that we ended up on this path? There are a lot of answers to that question, but the ones you tend to hear the most about are the Baby Boomer generation growing older, our college loans growing bigger, childcare and healthcare costs skyrocketing, and the economy declining.

It is with these thoughts in my mind that I begin to approach Ann Odle’s topic, which is caring for and relating to aging parents.

The Perspective of the Older Generation

For the generation that is older and maybe not as healthy now as they used to be, the world is an extremely frightening place. It’s no secret that healthcare costs are almost prohibitively expensive for families these days. Too often, we hear stories about a widow or widower being moved to a nursing home after the death of their spouse because no one in the family has the financial means to take care of them any other way. This generation is faced with losing their health, their home, contact with all whom they love, and their independence – and this generation, the generation of the Great Depression and World War II – they are all about being self-sufficient.

It’s also not a secret that a lot of nursing homes are simply places where senior citizens are viewed as people who don’t merit careful and genuine care and companionship. We hear too many stories about errors in treatment or about families who never take the time to visit their relatives. Nobody likes to experience these kinds of scenarios. For the people who are facing this future, the world may seem bleak. It may seem like all they have worked for all their long lives has been for naught.

The Perspective of the Younger Generation

I think for anyone who has aged and/or ill parents or grandparents, the sense of obligation is in perpetual conflict with the realities of 21st century life. Of course you want your loved one to be able to enjoy their remaining years where and how they want to. Of course you want to take care of them. Of course you want to do all you can to show your gratitude for everything you’ve gotten in your life.

Look at how weary most people are these days, however. Look at all of the conversations happening about the battle between staying home with the kids and going to work. Look at all of the conversations about rising costs of things like day care and schools. The undercurrent to all of those conversations, the part that doesn’t get as much focus, is that there are also people on the other end of the life spectrum who need help and care and support. With people working 24/7, with the financial situation in limbo, and with younger generations facing a future without Medicare or Social Security, the stress of wanting to do what is right and not being able to pull it off is immense.

No-Win Decisions

As the older generation continues to get older, and as younger generations continue to get squeezed in all kinds of ways, decisions will have to be made that won’t make anyone feel happy. Older people will find that their children simply cannot afford to take care of them. Assisted Living facilities or nursing homes will become the default answer for a lot of families, and that’s an extremely painful decision for all involved. All people in this country are being forced to choose priorities that are impossible. Do you want to spend your money and time on your children or on your parents? Who needs you the most? Should you go to work or visit your parents or stay home with the kids?

The discomfort that everyone is facing in our culture is unfortunate and immensely sad.

We Need to Talk About This

I firmly believe that life doesn’t have to be this way. There has to be another way. There has to be a way to let people stay in their homes yet also get the care they need. There has to be a way to provide for the older generation while the younger generation grows. There has to be a way to afford both food and medicine.

We just need to figure out how to make all of that happen.


Image by Joe Zlomek.