Christmas night I went off to my room and turned on the tv. I found an old movie playing that was not very familiar to me. It was from the 1930s and was about an older couple who have lost their home and livelihood, and are forced to live with one or another of their 5 children. They end up basically unwelcomed, and in separate homes. One would think that they might have had the opportunity to build their relationships with grandchildren, but the parents did not seem to like them “interfering.” It was quite sad as at the end they were to live on opposite coasts, with one going into an institution.
The moral of the story seemed to be put there by a friend of the father, who talked of how you raise children and they resent you for not being able to give them everything that everyone else has. Or on the other hand, you raise them and give them everything, up to and including a college education that enables them to enter a good profession. Yet still they seem to resent you. Hopefully it is not always the way, but it was food for thought at any rate.
We have now an economic situation at least somewhat reminiscent of the 1930s, what with home foreclosures and a poor job market. I’m sure there are some older folks who are forced to move in with their kids, although more commonly it seems now to be the younger ones who move in with the parents. Like anything else though, it can be a situation that is positive or negative partly because of what you make of it.
Much of the part I saw was about the mother/grandmother, who was living with her son and daughter in law. She shared a room with the granddaughter, who at 17 was beginning to want more independence, sneaking out to date men her parents would not have approved of. That’s pretty tame by our standards, but was apparently pretty scandalous at that time. Meanwhile the DIL had a side business teaching bridge in the home. Now grandma knew her way around cards and had a sense of humor as well, but DIL felt threatened by this. So instead of letting grandma become a part of the enterprise, she would shoo her out of the house, at least sometimes with the granddaughter. Eventually grandma was blamed for the daughter’s misbehavior, the maid’s threat to leave, whatever.
Grandpa was staying with a daughter. Apparently he slept on a couch, because at one point he became ill and when a doctor came by, they first walked him into the bedroom to put him in a real bed so the doctor wouldn’t know. This woman was insulted when his friend came by to see him and would have refused to let him in. The doctor was coming out though, so the man was allowed in. He had brought some chicken soup with him and the woman had a fit that he ate it, and insulted the other man’s wife, who had made it for him. This couple were really borderline abusive. Eventually they made the decision to send him to another sibling in California, supposedly for his health, but again there was no room for his wife.
Now at the end of the movie, the older couple’s children realize that they are not very nice people. That was good, as far as it went, but they made no move to change how things were set up. Essentially, it seemed that the ones in mid-life just wanted their lives back the way they were before the parents lost their home and job. One would hope that on realizing that they were not honoring the sacrifices their parents had made for them, nor even honoring their natural desire to end their lives together, that they would put their heads together and come up with another plan. But the realization alone was not enough to soften their hearts.
What struck me though, beyond the details of the story, were some differences in the underlying expectations. It seems that the expectation at that time, and in my understanding of much of history, was that the children were expected to care for their parents in their old age. Preferably this was to be done in their own homes as the old age homes were looked on as some horrible fate. Then, as now, I’m sure there were good places and those you would prefer to avoid at all costs. But I think in the intervening years, we have come up with some different concepts like active retirement communities, that make age segregation rather more desirable at least for many.
I think the responsibility has been turned around in our age. At least, it seems that the expectation now is that the parents ought to provide for their own old age, even assisted living or skilled nursing if possible may be covered by insurance purchased long before the need. The average senior adult now does not in any way wish to be a burden on their children. In fact, they are expected to leave an inheritance, even if they live many years after their retirement.
There are those however, who may find themselves in situations much more similar to the one in the movies. This couple were in reasonably good health, but had lost their home and livelihood. The job market wasn’t hiring people in their seventies, so starting over was no longer an option. So they went to live with their children, a rather ancient arrangement, having a multigenerational family under one roof. Grandchildren often form strong bonds with an in-house grandparent or two. It could be a positive situation, and often the crowding can be remedied by adding on to the house, or maybe moving into a larger one. If that is impossible, I’ve heard that living in close quarters drives people outside, which can be a good thing as well. I think we would do well to look for the good in such situations.