Sunday, January 15, 2012

How much do your children love you?

How much do your children love you?
In an article written for the New York Times on their Sunday Review Opinions page, Hendrik Hartog, professor of history at Princeton wrote our current financial picture in relationship to the care elderly people are receiving now in comparison to the time before Social Security.  The article called Bargaining for a Child's Love is part of 10 years of research that Hartog did on the role families played in the caring for family members.

This story takes place sometime at the turn of the century.  As was common at that time a daughter had remained in the family home to care for the parents even after she married.  According to court records from New Jersey, in 1904 this daughter was finding it impossible to be the devoted daughter and a wife and mother.  She left the family home with her husband and daughter and moved into a house nearby.  It turned out the father suffered from syphilis and the mother was "crazy".  The father first ordered her to return and then tried to buy her love with the promise of his Civil War Pension and the property he owned.  All he asked was that she move back home.  She did not move back permanently but continued to return home frequently to clean.  In the end the daughter did get the house after returning to care for the parents for a short period of time but was then sued by her brothers for a share.

The image painted in this story is one that does not agree with that "it was better back in the old days" we hear about so often. Hartog talks about the romantic notion that things were better back when touted by those that are proposing that we abandon Social Security and Medicare in favor of privatized care.
Once upon a time, the story line goes, family members cared for one another naturally within households, in an organic and unplanned process. But this portrait is too rosy. If we confront what old-age support once looked like — what actually happened when care was almost fully privatized, when the old depended on their families, without the bureaucratic structures and the (under)paid caregivers we take for granted — a different picture emerges.
I recall stories told in my family about how the old felt about living in the same house with their children. My great-grandmother on my mother's side believed strongly that there was not the house big enough to let a blended family live together in peace. She lived alone until her death.  My mother cared for my grandmother on my father side until that grandmother became so untrustworthy and mean they placed her in a nursing facilities...far away! This grandmother lived on welfare paid for indirectly by my parents.  I think that Grandmother did not want to be in the same house with her son and daughter-in-law.  The house was not big enough and maybe no house would have been.  It is not a pretty picture. I know that.  But, it is in fact the way things were.

Hartog ends his article with the statement "We may not love the bureaucracies and the institutions that shape our lives today. But would many of us really want to live in a world without them?" Financial speaking it is a valid question.

So the question here is what bargain would you make with one of your children so that they would care for you?  Would you share that information with the whole family before making a final decision?  In many cases the final question would be how much do your children love you?  If our politicians have their way, we may just get to find out.  It is a little frightening isn't it!

Just a thought!



  1. And then there are all of the people who don't have children, or who's children are disabled or died young. I never thought the "good old days" existed except as a justification for people's wishes to change the current world.

    Interesting article!

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  3. We jokingly talk about this ALOT. I have a strong personality. No doubt. I am learning to curb it because I want to be seen as a person they want to have around. Our plan is to live close to my daughter and son in law - but not with them. We have talked about a small, separate house, on the same lot in 30 years. We both have farms- so the room is there.
    My parents were wealthy and can/ could afford excellent care. My husband's mother died at a nursing home in Idaho- which was pretty good as far as she said. Her Social Security paid for it.
    We will be solidly lower middle class.
    My sister is a widow and childless. She moved into a co housing community. The community has cared for three people to the end. If that can hold is the answer for her.
    My generation, 54, are ones of divorce and estrangement from family. We live apart from our loved ones. Independence is fierce. Religion is waining. Knowing this generation, I see a rise in suicide in the next 20 years- of elderly. A couple in Phoenix in their early 80's , without children, just killed themselves in a hotel room. They completely covered the bed with plastic before they took their lives.....

  4. Thank all for your comments.

    Isn't it interesting that this really is on our minds. My husband and I have a plan and suicide is not part of it. That discussion is for another time.

    However, in the state of Oregon no one will be left without care. Husbands and wives may share a room and life out there days surrounded by others. Really, when you think about it, it could be a second loving family.

    I worry about people without an advocate though. Social workers are very helpful and I think by contacting a local hospital they could put anyone facing such a hard decision in contact with the right person.

    Again, thank you for your input.


  5. What a frightening thought! My children do their own thing. To be bothered by caring for me would not be in their social life. Oh well, I love them but it is the truth. I had a rude awakening to that fact this passed year when I had a heart attack and took care of my own self. Good article... The truth may hurt but it will set you free.

  6. Anna, there is a good lesson in your comment. Really, we need to tell our children what we want or need. They are not as perceptive and thoughtful as they could be. If we do it in the right way, no harm can come of saying "I really need you." If they don't pick up the slack then that is another issue.

    I alway remember to never ask a question when I can't accept an answer I don't want to hear.



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