Paradigm Shift – Parents No Longer Have Need of Children for Old Age

My wife, being from another country, is often puzzled by the way of life in the United States. Actually, me, being from this country, I too am often puzzled by this way of life. She asks me about these things and I don’t have an answer.

The relationship between parents and adult children is one of those places. I’m not talking about my own relatives here, because one thing I’ve learned through the years is that my familial relationships are not normal – normal for people who are in prison, have drug or alcohol dependency, or maybe even for coworker status – but not normal for parents and children. No, I’m talking about the great majority of American familial relationships – families like our neighbors – families where the parents actually put themselves out a little bit in order to ensure the well-being of their children. I think, perhaps, one of the reasons that parents did that was to build a safety net for themselves later in life when they became old and feeble.

I spoke with my father the other day. He mentioned his cataracts and how his sight was failing. I felt a genuine compassion for him because now that I am in my mid 40s, my own vision has been getting worse – reading has become more difficult and I can tell that the vision in one eye is weaker than in the other – so I felt a sense of empathy…a real connection, I even felt a desire to take care of him because he is my father …but he went on and told me how he went to an eye doctor and paid for a surgery that not only got rid of his cataracts but made his vision perfect and how it has improved his daily golf game. Not only can I not afford to play golf, but there is no way I can afford to get that kind of surgery even if my insurance covered it because it would certainly have a high deductible.

I’m trying to write about how the parents of adult children no longer need to ask their kids for help and as a result, they no longer have a personal need to help their children to succeed. There is no longer a selfish need to protect one’s young to protect one’s future. And, it’s my belief, that as a result, there is no longer a significant even sacrificial investment in the success of one’s children. Further, as a result of that, there is now a hoarding of wealth and the ability to accumulate things like vacation houses and expensive eye surgery and personal trainers and a veritable fountain of youth of products, procedures, and formulations – that the children cannot afford but the parents can – which not only preserves the parents, but allows them to be more healthy than the children and quite possibly to live longer than their offspring.

My dad is 82 and I am 45 and he sees better than I do – I am happy for him and I don’t begrudge him that – not by any means. It wouldn’t surprise me if he lives longer than me. I’m sure he has more frequent dental appointments and he doesn’t live in a molding cheap rental – so his respiratory and heart health are probably better than mine too. There is no real incentive for him to invest in me except for altruism – a trait which seems to be missing from a large segment of our society and which many believe to be imaginary.

It’s my observation that a great many parents (in particular the parents of my generation) went about teaching life in the same way they went about teaching swimming – 1) throw the child in the pool and let them sink or swim or 2) let someone else do the teaching 3) leave it to the child to find a teacher when they reach adulthood. I believe that sort of parenting has led to the broken family relationships we have today.

When my mother was injured, we offered to stay at her house and take care of her. To do the cooking and cleaning, take care of the dogs, and take care of the house. “She’s got a physical therapist and the house takes care of itself,” was the answer her husband gave.

That’s the paradigm shift I’m trying to write about. That’s the thing that baffles my wife because she comes from a country where the parents are cherished by the adult children – and here – quite frankly – I think there is resentment on both sides. Of course in her country of origin, the parents sacrifice everything to give their children a better life and the children understand that when they become adults and take care of the parents – quid pro quo – but it’s not like that here among families like mine.

Granted, my family is an extreme example with divorces and remarriages etc, but I see this sort of behavior happening with a majority of American families – the parents no longer sacrifice greatly for the children and when the children become adults, they feel no great debt to the parents – and the parents seeing this hoard more for their own well being – and the children seeing this feel a growing sense of resentment and isolation. I think that is why we don’t have big family dinners. The parents are scared of being caught in their selfish hoarding, the children are scared of being asked to care for the selfish hoarders, the grandchildren are watching and learning. A family dinner is a meeting of people who could have helped each other, but did not.

I see this daily. When baby boomers come in my shop and talk about their children and their adventures. I see it in the ads directed at baby boomers. I see it in the movies that are appearing. My wife is baffled but it simply makes me sad.

Life Stories

The problem with writing a life story is that it’s difficult to avoid telling someone else’s story and frankly, the life story should be about one person – with a few supporting characters and perhaps an adversary – but not much more than that. I’m considering how to tell my life story in an ongoing video format without making it boring or bringing others into it. I want to do this for my daughter, for any children she may someday have, and maybe even for later descendants if humanity lasts that long – or if we destroy ourselves, which seems very likely, perhaps my story will be interesting to ETs that find it someday or to highly evolved cats that eventually become the intelligent life-form on this planet. I don’t want to tell my story because it is important or even interesting – but simply to tell it. It seems a shame that it should disappear with me. The truth is that no one except me knows my story – and I suspect that is true of every human being on the planet. We have the technology to share our lives and perhaps to discover some sort of meaning in them – perhaps it is something we should do. As I mentioned at the outset, the problem is leaving other people out of it. There is no reason to specifically identify romantic partners, enemies, friends, relatives, or co-workers. It is not fair to do so, in my opinion. Every life has something to teach – I am not sure yet what the lessons of mine will be. And of course, what will probably happen is that at some point, after all the work is done and the story is completed, it will be lost – just as the spark of life itself is lost. That is the other thing I must consider because it would be a shame to spend significant time of my actual life sharing my past and thus losing my present for it and then having it lost in the future which ends up being a sad sad thing, if you take my meaning.

Insurance

We have insurance – just in case. Life insurance in case we die – that’s $60 per month. Auto insurance in case we have an accident in the cars that’s another $150 per month. I have health insurance through the VA and my wife provides coverage for all of us through her work – that’s another $200 per month (would be more if she didn’t have the job) – and then we have AAA towing insurance (which is the one that has provided the most value to us through the years) which is roughly $12 per month. We have other forms of insurance, but they aren’t labeled as such so I’ll just stick with these for now. These add up to $422 per month which comes out to $5064 per year. Now, let’s assume that I was a $10 per hour worker – my insurance needs wouldn’t change – so that would mean that I would be working 506 hours per year for insurance. Let me break that down – that’s slightly more than 63 days each year that I’m not getting paid but I’m working for 8 hours. That means that I’m working for the insurance companies for two months out of every year in return for the insurance.

Granted – if we need the insurance, it’s money well spent. However, there is something fundamentally wrong with the way this is done. I can see why there are so many people who go to great lengths to get disabled status (yes, there are people who are disabled but there are many who must make a big stretch to be classified as such). And yes, I could reduce our coverage and pay less. We could cancel the life insurance and AAA, we could sell our cars and use bikes and public transportation, and we could drop the health coverage to the bare legal minimums – but I’m not likely to do that – the society we live in offers too many opportunities for financial ruin – it sometimes feels as if the structure of our society has been constructed BY the insurance companies in order to harness us and force us to work (or to show ourselves unfit to be workers).

Homeowners will be quick to notice that I didn’t include homeowners insurance – we don’t own a home. We probably would own a home if we had been able to keep that $5k per year because then we would have the down payment of $20k but of course, then we would have homeowners insurance on top of the other insurance – which, frankly, to me, always makes it feel a bit like you don’t own the home at all – even after you’ve paid the bank back for the loan you had to take to get the home. After 2007, there were a lot of people who quickly discovered they didn’t actually own the home they called their own – the banks did – and still do.

There are other insurances I do not own. I can’t afford more insurance because I need to work the other ten months to pay rent, electric, water, gas, repairs, food, and to buy the things that we need to live. I appreciate the benefits of insurance, but I hate insurance.