Tag Archives: aging

When Do I Get to Be the Mom?

19 May

In the flight to the suburbs in the 50’s, Americans didn’t just leave the city behind, they left their parents behind as well. Grandparents had frequently lived with their grandchildren throughout American history… until we could afford not to.

I was reading a article about how Sun City, Arizona was created as one of the first retirement communities. (I pick up the weirdest articles–which if you read this blog, you already knew.) Now older people had been travelling to Arizona for sometime, but usually because they had tuberculosis, and the dry environment helped them live longer. My own great-aunt Josephine moved out to Tucson for her husband’s TB.

However, with wealth came separation. The affordable car allowed people to live further away from their workplace, so instead of living in a cramped row house or apartment in the city, why not move out to the suburbs? Land was cheap, construction was available, and so they moved. However, they still had the place in the city, and often parents didn’t want to move, so… leave them there. Often there was one of many adult children who took care of them. Suddenly there was a mind shift. Americans now didn’t live with with their parents, making it the exception, not the rule.

Once I watched the movie Avalon (1990), and although it’s something I’ve never watched again, it’s a really cool film about three generations of the same family coming to, then adapting to living in America. However, in the story, the second generation takes their parents with them to the suburbs. Although this cuts them from their extended family, the daughter-in-law gets annoyed watching her mother-in-law undercut her authority with her own daughter. So the daughter-in-law goes to her husband and asks, “When do I get to be the Mom?” The next scene, the parents are moved out to a retirement home.

So… unwanted by their families, we developed a culture of nursing homes and retirement communities. My own grandfather (dad’s dad) made his entire career building nursing homes across the Midwest… and then lived his retirement in his own home and died there. Of course, my family is weird that way. My mom’s parents lived on their own, sunbirded down to Texas during the winter, until they couldn’t any more. When my grandpa died, then grandma injured herself and couldn’t stay alone. She spent the last ten years of her life in a nursing home, barely present.

We tried to do the right thing with my wife’s parents–they had four kids, so the single one lived with them and helped take care of them. But sooner or later, the work of caring for them became more than one person could do simply by living there… it became their full-time commitment. Then two kids’ commitment. Then finally, it was too much for all of them. My in-laws were moved to a nursing home; my father-in-law died within six months. My mother-in-law was moved to Texas to be near two of her daughters… but still in a nursing home.

With extended lifespans, it seems almost inevitable that we will grow more isolated as we get older. There’s a price to be paid for living longer… and man, is that a depressing thought to end this post on. However, there is a whole culture and a whole industry built around the elderly. I’ve skirted around it going to veteran’s bars where I’m the youngest guy in there at 45. The beast adapts. But what’s your story? Let me know in the comments below! Then if you still have time on this earth, check out one of my books. However, if $1.99 cuts into your retirement fund, go ahead and download one of my stories for free. I’d appreciate it.

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