Caregiving for Baby Boomers: Blended families have blended loyalties

couple calculatorThe baby boom generation is history-making, life-changing, innovative and unusual.  Boomers take literally the mandate of “…Do not go gentle into that good night.” And the boomer cohort is HUGE.  According to  the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration on Aging, the number of Americans entering retirement age will nearly double by the year 2030. How on earth will we, as a nation, look after the health care of about 72 million older adults with few youngsters to support them financially and physically? Kotlikoff and Burns state in  The Coming Generational Storm, that “by 2030, the senior to kid ratio will be three to one!”

Caregiving is a stressful and exhausting task, even in an “old-fashioned” nuclear family.  My siblings and I continue to struggle with decisions we made (or waited too long to make) regarding both my parents, especially my mother, who is 89 and ailing in a nursing home located close to my sister’s weekend home.  While my sister elected to keep Mom close to her, the enormity of the responsibility for my mother’s care is taking a monumental toll on my sister and her husband – more than anyone else in our family.     

Modern blended families add an unprecedented level of complexity to the mix. Second and third marriages create a web of connections (and disconnects), with stepchildren and other more distant family members expressing varying degrees of loyalty and commitment.

Many questions arise:  How involved will children and/or stepchildren be in the long-term care needs of their parents? Who will be required to make difficult decisions if an older person or parent is no longer able to live alone, or make decisions about their own care? In blended families, competing loyalties make these decisions more difficult.  

And here is a harsh reality: an older person may wonder if after his death his biological children will treat his surviving spouse, their stepmother, in the same way they treated him.  The grown stepchildren of later baby boom marriages just do not have the same history with the new stepparent, and feel less responsibility to help out. This is from the recent New York Times article entitled: “In Blended families, responsibility blurs:  “The ties which lead adult children to become caregivers — depending on how much contact they have with parents, how nearby they live, how obligated they feel — are weaker in stepchildren.“ Older couples in this situation fall through the cracks.”[i]

The New York Times article can be viewed as more than a cautionary tale to add to the woes of boomers who currently may be unemployed, under-employed and dealing with the compounded responsibilities of supporting college-age students, eldercare expenses, diminishing home values, and their own health concerns.  Turn it into a call to action: “We will not go gentle into that good night!”

Boomers may be the first generation that made Botox, gym memberships and Spanx as essential as bread and water, but “essentials” take on a whole new meaning in a recession.  Considering that many women (and men) between the ages of 55 and 65 are working two and three jobs, with no healthcare benefits,  and resorting to health regimens that at best are questionable and at worst harmful to their health, and you don’t need a battle cry to realize it’s time for a better plan. 

For my husband and me, the fact that we are childless means that we had to become our own caretakers – to a certain limit.  Our plan included buying long-term insurance ten years ago when we watched my father die in pain over the course of two years in nursing homes.  That was our alarm clock: We then put in place concrete goals, decision points and deadlines that included downsizing from the home we had bought 30 years ago when I was a bride, and which we sold last year, to reducing myriad unnecessary expenses. 

By anyone’s definition we do not live a Spartan life!  Today we are in a very small but perfect (for us, anyway) apartment where we each monitor every financial and health decision, keep necessary costs down and eliminate non-essential expenses, defined as those that would cause us more stress if we indulged in them than if we don’t. What works for us certainly isn’t for everyone else, and we also realize that we are extremely fortunate in being able to live where we want to live, and enjoy what we have. 

For other boomers, especially those in blended families where the demarcation lines of responsibility and loyalty give new meaning to the words “blurred” or “nonexistent” I can only offer a lot of empathy and encouragement:  It takes a lot of work and sacrifice to plan for retirement!  Even then, there are no guarantees that your plan will succeed, or that a health threat will not thwart your plan.  Therefore, plan for what you absolutely need as well as for what you want (two different constructs, of course).  Plan well, and monitor your plan diligently so you can shift your priorities when the need arises.

Hope for the best, but plan for the worst.  In other words, do not go gentle into that good night.   Not on your life!

 

SOURCES:

http://www.csa.us/pubs/articles/Journal50_7_mccabe_BlendedFamilyTensions.pdf

http://newoldage.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/05/in-blended-families-responsibility-blurs/

American Psychological Association’s “Stress in America” survey

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-amy-ziettlow/caregiving_b_1220053.html

The Coming Generational Storm, Kotlikoff and Burns Kotlikoff and Burns

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration on Aging

 

 

 

 

 



[i] “In Blended Families, Responsibility Blurs,” Paula Span, NYTimes, http://newoldage.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/05/in-blended-families-responsibility-blurs/. February 12, 2013

 

 

The baby boom generation is history-making, life-changing, innovative and unusual.  Boomers take literally the mandate of “…Do not go gently into that good night.” And the boomer cohort is HUGE.  According to  the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration on Aging, the number of Americans entering retirement age will nearly double by the year 2030. How on earth will we, as a nation, look after the health care of about 72 million older adults with few youngsters to support them financially and physically? Kotlikoff and Burns state in  The Coming Generational Storm, that “by 2030, the senior to kid ratio will be three to one!”

Caregiving is a stressful and exhausting task, even in an “old-fashioned” nuclear family.  My siblings and I continue to struggle with decisions we made (or waited too long to make) regarding both my parents, especially my mother, who is 89 and ailing in a nursing home located close to my sister’s weekend home.  While my sister elected to keep Mom close to her, the enormity of the responsibility for my mother’s care is taking a monumental toll on my sister and her husband – more than anyone else in our family.     

Modern blended families add an unprecedented level of complexity to the mix. Second and third marriages create a web of connections (and disconnects), with stepchildren and other more distant family members expressing varying degrees of loyalty and commitment.

Many questions arise:  How involved will children and/or stepchildren be in the long-term care needs of their parents? Who will be required to make difficult decisions if an older person or parent is no longer able to live alone, or make decisions about their own care? In blended families, competing loyalties make these decisions more difficult.  

 

And here is a harsh reality: an older person may wonder if after his death his biological children will treat his surviving spouse, their stepmother, in the same way they treated him.  The grown stepchildren of later baby boom marriages just do not have the same history with the new stepparent, and feel less responsibility to help out. This is from the recent New York Times article entitled: “In Blended families, responsibility blurs:  “The ties which lead adult children to become caregivers — depending on how much contact they have with parents, how nearby they live, how obligated they feel — are weaker in stepchildren. “Older couples in this situation fall through the cracks.”[i]

The New York Times article can be viewed as more than a cautionary tale to add to the woes of boomers who currently may be unemployed, under-employed and dealing with the compounded responsibilities of supporting college-age students, eldercare expenses, diminishing home values, and their own health concerns.  Turn it into a call to action: “We will not go gently into that good night!”

Boomers may be the first generation that made Botox, gym memberships and Spanx as essential as bread and water, but “essentials” take on a whole new meaning in a recession.  Considering that many women (and men) between the ages of 55 and 65 are working two and three jobs, with no healthcare benefits,  and resorting to health regimens that at best are questionable and at worst harmful to their health, and you don’t need a battle cry to realize it’s time for a better plan. 

For my husband and me, the fact that we are childless means that we had to become our own caretakers – to a certain limit.  Our plan included buying long-term insurance ten years ago when we watched my father die in pain over the course of two years in nursing homes.  That was our alarm clock: We then put in place concrete goals, decision points and deadlines that included downsizing from the home we had bought 30 years ago when I was a bride, and which we sold last year, to reducing myriad unnecessary expenses. 

By anyone’s definition we do not live a Spartan life!  Today we are in a very small but perfect (for us, anyway) apartment where we each monitor every financial and health decision, keep necessary costs down and eliminate non-essential expenses –defined as those that would cause us more stress if we indulged in them than if we don’t.   What works for us certainly isn’t for everyone else, and we also realize that we are extremely fortunate in being able to live where we want to live, and enjoy what we have. 

For other boomers, especially those in blended families where the demarcation lines of responsibility and loyalty give new meaning to the words “blurred” or “nonexistent” I can only offer a lot of empathy and encouragement:  It takes a lot of work and sacrifice to plan for retirement!  Even then, there are no guarantees that your plan will succeed, or that a health threat will also thwart your plan.  Therefore, plan for what you absolutely need as well as for what you want (two different constructs, of course).  Plan well, and monitor your plan diligently so you can shift your priorities when the need arises.

Hope for the best, but plan for the worst.  In other words, do not go gently into that good night.   Not on your life!

 

 

SOURCES:

http://www.csa.us/pubs/articles/Journal50_7_mccabe_BlendedFamilyTensions.pdf

http://newoldage.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/05/in-blended-families-responsibility-blurs/

American Psychological Association’s “Stress in America” survey

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-amy-ziettlow/caregiving_b_1220053.html

The Coming Generational Storm, Kotlikoff and Burns Kotlikoff and Burns

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration on Aging

 

 

 

 

 



[i]In Blended Families, Responsibility Blurs,” Paula Span, NYTimes, http://newoldage.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/05/in-blended-families-responsibility-blurs/. February 12, 2013

 

 

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