As families grow up there can be a tendency for members to go their separate ways and get distant from each other. But equally, there are great opportunities for the older members to draw the family together and strengthen the bonds between all the generations – and as America ages demographically, we see many examples of the family pulling together.
It’s not necessarily the elders of a family who spearhead the changes: often it’s the middle generation, starting to get more concerned as their parents age, and wanting to take care of the multiple challenges and opportunities that arise from this.
America is sold on aging in place, and seniors overwhelmingly say they want to stay in their familiar home as they get older – or perhaps downsize or move into a different home – rather than move to an assisted living facility or nursing home.
It’s become common to see younger generations move back in with the older generation of a family, sometimes from financial need, but often as a way to provide family caregiving for elderly parents or grandparents – nudging the elders adopt assistive technology such as a medical alert smartwatch, for example. American families are increasingly “circling the wagons” around one homestead that all generations call home, from grandparents to great-grandkids.
Helping the Younger Ones
One of the great regrets expressed by seniors is not having spent enough time with their children and grandchildren. Retirement becomes a priceless opportunity to make up for lost time. Seniors with more time on their hands can help their immediate children by spending time with the grandkids, enriching their lives in multiple ways.
Babysitting at any age is always a great help for working parents, and reviving the childcare skills from years before is not a difficult task, especially with the time to take extra involvement. Simply being there for children growing up is a valuable emotional support and becomes a treasured bond over the years.
Grandparents make great teachers and mentors to help the grandkids get their schoolwork done, to be home for them at the “latchkey hour” when their parents are still at work, and to support them at their school events, performances and sports games. They can initiate extracurricular field trips (with the occasional fun trip to test the melting point of ice cream, etc.), or even help organize a full blown homeschooling program – joining in a local POD or even creating one from scratch.
Elders have skills and experiences of their own to pass on to the younger ones, as well as family memories that pass down the traditions of the whole and create a sense of heritage and belonging. Organizing new family projects such as a shared hobby or a family history book fosters teamwork and shared purpose within the family.
Grandparents can create new traditions by hosting or organizing family gatherings such as celebrations at birthdays or holidays, and even a regular Sunday meal at the grandparents’ home. And when it’s time to relax, organizing a family vacation trip or a weekend getaway can bring a huge benefit to all the hard-working members of the family who are still making their journey toward retirement.
Helping the Older Ones
Helping kids grow up is one of the great satisfactions in life, and enriches the giver as well as the recipient. It works the other way too, as the younger members of the family help the older ones to live a fulfilling life even as age closes down some of their faculties.
Helping parents prepare for retirement involves a combination of financial planning, emotional support, and practical considerations. The hardest part may be simply to initiate in the first place open and honest conversations about retirement plans, expectations and concerns – but communication is essential, so that’s a bridge that must be crossed.
There should be open discussion within the family of financial goals, lifestyle choices and potential challenges. Seniors have reflections on life that include regrets and new ambitions. These should all be explored and understood. Encourage seniors to create and maintain social networks, and help them with technology to support this.
Finances are the biggest practical aspect of any family’s life, and it may be useful to bring in professional advice, as the family understands matters such as future incomes, Social Security, pensions, savings, investments – and plans for legacy and inheritance. Any outstanding elder debt is best paid off before retirement, and certainly before the declining years. All this can include potentially sensitive material, so a lot of family love and care should go into it.
As the position of the elders is established, the position of the younger ones should be included also. Budgeting for all generations should mesh to allow emergency funds for contingencies – from a sick grandchild to an elder illness.
It’s a good time to make sure that healthcare planning embraces all the members of the family, each with their specific requirements. Legal matters too are crucial aspects here, with estate planning and such things as wills, trusts, powers of attorney and taxes.
Finally, decide if you all want to live together as a family, in one home. It’s a choice that many families in America are making in recent years, as multi-generational living becomes the norm rather than the exception. It offers many benefits, as well as pitfalls, all worthy of discussion – so that’s a story for another time.