I remember a story written by the famous Norwegian writer Henrik Ibsen. In this short tale he told of parents taking their very old parents to the poor house. The young grandchildren came along for the journey. When it came time to leave the old people behind, they were given one blanket. A small child yelled "Wait!" and ran up and tore the blanket in half. The father asked "Why did you do that" and the child answered "I will need the other half when I bring you here when you are old."
The story of aging has changed a lot since the later part of the 19th century. But children still are feeling the need to take over their parents life. It could be that they are seeing themselves as the "caregiver" a long time before they need to. Here are some thoughts.
SEEN AND HEARD:
When should you suggest that your parents "Right Size" their lives? Let's say your mother and father are living in a five bedroom house and all the children have left the nest. The parents are approaching retirement. Is this the time to suggest a move?
WHEN ARE WE OLD?
I have a feeling that this all boils down to when the parent and the child feels a person is too old to live in such a house. In a recent survey released by Pews Research Center Publication called Growing Old in Amerca: Expectation VS Reality, the disparity between when an 18-29 year old thinks a person is old and what a middle aged person sees "old" are markedly different. The younger people feel that a person is old at the age of 60. The middle aged person gives themselves another 12 years moving "old" up to 72. Children also saw aging as much worse that what parents actually experienced.
So lets say, for example, you are in your early thirties and your parents still live in a very large house. You may feel that the time has come for them to get a smaller place so they can age in place in something that will be more practical in years to come. You still see 60 as old. Your parents who are approaching their mid to late fifties are thinking that the best is yet to come. They may be even be thinking of converting a bedroom into an exercise room and another into an office. Mom may have always dreamed of a craft room. They are looking forward to enjoy this home all by themselves for a few more years. It all boils down to the perception of when they are indeed old. I am 67. My 72 year old husband and I chose to downsize, not because of health issues but because we wanted a three story town house. We would have remained in our 4 bedroom home a lot longer if we had not chosen to move to a nearby city. The point is we moved when we were ready. We do not believe in "aging in place". Besides we are still healthy and feel very young.
WHO HELPS WHO?
The other thing that Pew's pointed out was the different perceptions of how much parents help their children monetarily and with child care. It seems that 51% of parents said they had helped their children with money in the past year. Parents still see themselves as needed in both these areas. What I read into that statistic was that the parents still see themselves as wiser than their children and really are not willing to listen to a child's advice or concerns. The communication is just not there
HOW TO WORK THE ANSWERING MACHINE:
Pew's research actually showed that parents do not depend on children very much until they are quite old. At the age of 85 a full 80% are still living independently. As for asking for help with errands and other assistance, 42 % of those over 65 say they have had help. Now, I will add here that I have know quite a few older people that will ask their children for help as a plea for attention. When they cannot get their son or daughter to visit, they will call and ask them to come and show them how to work the answering machine. The children worry because their parents have forgotten how to do this function and come to see them. The parents have gotten what they want. My thinking is, if they truly have forgotten such a basic thing, children do need to be more attentive. But, usually, if there is no one to help, most old people can figure out just about anything.
WHAT IS THE ANSWER
So, when do you begin to talk with your parents about down sizing. Maybe never. I know, you have an idea what you want to do when you are at or approaching retirement. But this is where Pew's saw the biggest discrepancy. They called it the Generation Gap, Circa 2009. Pews cited work ethic, morals and values as the areas where the gaps appear. It could be that because young people are mobile in ways that the older generation never were, they do no have the attachment to a place. Seniors see "down sizing" as a giant leap from what they know to what they do not know or understand. For my generation, friendships were forever, most people did not leave or go to exotic places. Our value system was based on home, friends and family. Pressing a parent to move too soon really might take them out of their comfort zone. They are probably thinking that they would like to take it one step at a time. They will know when it is time. My generation likes security....a lot! AND in the end the children really cannot MAKE their parents do anything...not as long as they are healthy and of sound mind.
If you are a senior reading this, I would love your input. If you are a young person trying to figure a senior out, I hope you find this useful. I would love to hear your questions.
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