So far, yet so close…

It is a very common thing now to blame the demise of the joint family system for all the ills besetting a family. This is especially so in the case of caring for the older generation.

The very poor continue living in joint families, often with three or more generations living together due to economic reasons. The joint family works for them because the education levels are low and the need to migrate for better job opportunities does not arise in most cases.

Also they still have not started adopting the ‘hum do hamara ek’ policy yet. In rural and illiterate families every mouth is welcomed as two hands to work. They manage the family farms and do the work available within the community or village or even town or city they live in. Where they need to migrate, the joint family takes care of the wife and children left behind and the latter in turn care for the elderly. Apart from the very poor section of the society the only successful joint family model can be seen in Ekta Kapoor’s Saas bahu serials! At least it is successful in filling her coffers!

It is naïve to believe that we can have the ideal joint family, or even the one we knew a couple of generations ago, back in place to solve all problems — care of the aged and the young alike. The society has changed too much for this to happen.

  • Education levels have gone up.
  • Jobs have become globalised. And unless we want our children to take up government jobs (if they do manage to get one after the reservations), or jobs much below their qualification, or manage the family business if there is one — we can’t expect to live with our children in most cases.
  • Jobs are highly stressful resulting in frayed tempers and hot words, which would not be there if the two generations are not sharing space.
  • Real estate is hitting the sky (roof is too low for it now) and so space is at a premium, necessitating separate homes.
  • Grandparents are discovering a second chance at living the life they couldn’t when they were younger.
  • Families have become smaller. The earlier generation had adopted the two-child family norm and many of today’s couples are going for the single child model.

But take heart. The joint family has only changed forms as so many other things have. It has evolved from the staying-under-one-roof concept and settled in the hearts of the family members.

How? The present generation, also known as Generation Y  is much more sensitive than the sandwich generation. The latter, which had to take care of both the older and younger generations, tends to come under too much pressure and in turn callous towards its elders.

The generation Y though, having been raised in families as a single child, with just one or in rare cases, two siblings, have grown up with lot of love and care from its parents. Many of these youngsters have seen their parents taking care of their grandparents and other elders too. This automatically has instilled the same sense of responsibility towards their parents.

We are also being unfair when we say that this generation is selfish. The bonds are tighter if we only cared to see. So even when the youngsters are living apart (sometimes in the same city due to space or other constraints), they keep in regular touch physically through visits, phone calls, video chats and email. Girls increasingly are opting to stay close to their parents. Young couples care equally for their spouses’ parents too. This is in sharp contrast to the earlier generation when the boys’ parents got the first preference when it came to being cared for. Another welcome development which is slowly taking place is that he two sets of in-laws are coming closer to be of mutual help to their children and to each other.

This arrangement is infinitely more desirable than forcing parents to go and live with their children, uprooting them from their familiar surroundings and friends. But if the situation so demands that the parents need care, the youngsters are willing to make adjustments, sometimes to the extent of relocating, changing jobs and finding alternative care for them. They are with their parents in the time it takes for the travel, in cases of emergencies.

This may sound a little too simple and idealistic. It is for the moment, when the older generation is relatively younger. What happens when this group is 70 or 80+ and begins needing regular care?

Things are not going to get better, with the number of elders increasing steadily and life expectancy going up. The sandwich generation is not getting any younger.  Already the caregivers themselves are getting too old to care for their parents, where they are living together.

One solution for this looming problem is setting up of senior citizens’ communities, where likeminded seniors can get care, health facilities and attendant care where required. While the government run homes are pathetic to say the least, the private ones are good but come at a very steep price. Attention needs to be given to setting up of affordable senior care homes in the immediate future.

It is time for the government too to step in with some form of social security and health care for the senior citizens. This should not just be confined to the pensioners but to all sections of society as in the West and include home care where needed. There is nothing to be scandalized about social care for the elders. We have accepted so many and worse changes in the name of development and progress. This is just another and urgent one of them.

We need not be afraid that the younger generation will shirk its responsibilities vis-à-vis its elders. We have to appreciate the pragmatism and concern of this generation that not only has a wise head on its shoulders but also a caring heart.

I would like to invite the youngsters out there for their inputs in this matter.

What would you do if your parents are too old, need care and it is not possible for you to have a conventional joint family set-up?

18 comments

  1. Very nice post, Zephyr! I feel one of the reasons why there are so many elders worry about this is because they haven’t planned their post retirement life. They selflessly invest their earnings on their child’s future because they feel it’d be a burden for the kids to be heavily in debt as soon as they graduate. But the simple matter of truth is that, sometimes you have to put yourself first, just the way your children will do for themselves in the future. In my family, my dad’s parents and my mom’s parents have an age difference of 15 years, so it was possible for my parents to take care of each of them till their death. And my only grandmother lives with us. Not many have such a time choice. In that case, if each set of parents had planned some sort of retirement savings, they could both stay near their kids while not being completely dependent on them. I’ve insisted that my parents let my complete my graduate studies on my own and save their earnings for themselves. Makes it easier for everyone, don’t you think? 🙂

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    1. I am sorry I missed replying this comment. Please don’t put a sad face 🙂

      Very valid points and very well put too. Parents are beginning to be more careful now, but what is the percentage of parents who can afford to do that after education two kids and settling them in life, including getting them married? I don’t address the concerns of upper middle class families here. In fact, I have been planning a follow up post to this one. Thanks for bringing this topic to the fore again.

      Your parents were lucky. Even in those days age differences varied. My MIL and FIL were nearly 12 years apart while my parents were less than three! And if you can complete your studies on your own and repay the loan, nothing like it. Wait for the next parts of this post in a couple of months.

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      1. Sad puppy faces are cute 😀

        Waiting! 🙂

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  2. Wow , thanks zephyr for including my post link in your article. I feel you have said all that I missed out. A very beautifully written article and I am glad I dropped by to read it.
    Best wishes

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    1. You are welcome Tikulicious! Glad you liked the post. I am nearly getting there, that’s why the concern for those older than me!

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  3. What a THOUGHT PROVOKING text! Loved your thought’s
    Ofcourse Today kids are sensative enough to strike a good balance between parents and spouse. Honesty it is true that ,Staying together with your mate and your parents might create problems at times in the longer run. Stressful life’s , running, deadlines, pressure can make a normal human being do anything. At times earlier, i had have fights with my mom and due to my irritation on sumthing else i have said things which i regretd as soon as my temper went down. But will i be able to listn if my spouse says anything to my mother??. NEVER! I won’t stand it , even for a moment.
    PArents who nurtured us care about us , hold our hands and make us walk, spend sleepless nights, so what if we have fights, so what there are tears too! .we cant be soo insensative towards them.
    I persoanlly feel it’s better to ask a kid to stay nearby ratehr than stay the same house. Now there are 2 reasons i would stick to this decision in my life 1) Any relation needs respect, and being a mother i want my kid to do that and the best way is to ask hthe married pair to stay anywhere they want. As at a age of 60, i expect to have a peaceful life. 2) Being newly married bees, they want thr space, which i will be happy to give always. Interference will lead to differences , so the far the better!.
    This will help any kid to realize that parents are understanding and ofcourse you can expect them wen u need them.
    If i talk about my friends, whatever kind of a person he or she is, they want to see there parents happy and give them the bext luxaries of there life’s. Maybe the parents dont want it, but it’s the thought tht’s important..
    We care and we will always…
    I remember my ma telling me, Don’t worry about me, You go ahead with your life, Go kiss the World!. Even today , wen i go back Home i ask her what shall i get for you?. D only answer i get back is , I have everything , you just come like that!.

    We must take time to realize the silent needs of ou parents , old age is a second childhood and just as we take care of our children, the same attention and same care needs to be given to our parents . Quality time and politely answering them with out making them wait is important. Now I realize that I must look at their eyes and answer them pleasantly and pretend to be reading papers and answer in mono syllables. Rather than my dad saying thank you to me, I would want to say sorry for making him wait so long for this small dream. I do realize how much he has sacrificed for my sake and I will do my best to give the best possible attention to all their wishes.

    Just because they are old does not mean that they will have to give up everything and keep sacrificing for their grandchildren also. They have wishes, too.

    They crossed all mountains and valleys without any problem to make us a person presentable in the society todaywe must say good and kind words to them , no matter how they behave.

    Staying Far will rather make a more emotionally stronger bond.! But yes if they need us! We are just a call away!. be it India or be it US. We will be back home anyhow!. If the situation demands and they wanna stay with us, they are welcome. I would like my parents to stay with me and want my kids to stay away from me!. Why expect! Just give!.

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    1. What I am gathering from all the comments is that the two generations should be independent as long as possible and support each other when the need arises. Keeping fingers crossed for all those people out there!

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  4. senior home?? umm why?? as my father once eloquently told me, “go look after yourself, i have my beautiful wife to look after me and she has me”.. sigh… i just wanted him to come and live with me after his retirement..

    i dunno Zephyr.. i haven’t really met anybody that “old”.. here old is a very relative term.. i have a 60 year old friend who gives me a run with regular treks and road trips.. i really tot she was 16 wen i met her first on a trek… a team-mate at her 75 years of age is working actively still and demands a can of foster every time she does some extra work for me..

    the last time i was stuck at the base of some rock climbing trip, it was a 60+ uncle who motivated me… he and his wife wr half way thru already 😀

    so are my parents and their parents… my Grandpa is 80+ and is farming like he is 20… every month he sends me a whole plantain bunch or sack of rice, bounty from his farm… *i’d be killed if i said our farm.. it seems till he passes away its HIS farm alone*

    such are the folks i am surrounded with…

    regd. joint family.. it can be worked out if we really want it to… i am a travel freak out of my home for 7 years now.. my sis and bro are out since thier college days too.. with my father still working and with his constant transfers, it is literally out of context to all of us working minions to stay put at a single place… and if you want to know abt my grandparents, they will rather take a gun and shoot us if we ever try to drag them out of the village…

    duh i am all confused now amma 😦

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    1. Wow, what a wonderfully active family! Yes, you are right about old being a relative term. and the best solution by far for old age is being independent and active, right?
      I can’t imagine the Ratzzz being confused though 🙂

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  5. Siddharth · · Reply

    Ma’am I understand your suggestion about nursing homes but I am against it… personal experience you may call it. My grandfather had actually slipped and fallen and in the process fractured his hip bone. The doctor said he needed surgery so he was admitted in the hospital. But due to last minute tests and complications they couldn’t operate upon him so we all returned home… and the first thing he said when he came back home was “I am already feeling better”. They like home. When I merely suggested to my dad to sell off our current flat and purchase a couple of new ones with me so we could both live close together he flatly refused… because he identifies the flat as home… in a job like ours where you keep hopping from city to city, country to country, we hardly spend enough time in a house to call it home. My dad on the other hand has lived long enough in our current residence to be able to call it home.
    And yes, one more thing, to be very honest… for me as well…. this house will always be the only true home… wherever I may be.

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  6. So many examples came to mind when I read this. Do I go with the worse ones or the better ones?

    My cousins took care of their grandfather right upto his last breath. Since he required specialized medical equipment in his last days, they purchased the flat next to their house and set it up so that one of them could be there at all times. Perhaps the most telling statement that they quoted, after our grandfather (paternal for them, maternal for me) passed away: “We’ve seen what suffering old age is, and we’ll ensure that grandma doesn’t go through as much pain as he did. That’s what we are here for.”
    As Siddharth points out, the present generation does want a certain independence, and their parents also want so. What his mom wants him to do, my cousins already have. The one that got married moved into the next door flat used for my grandfather, and remodeled it the way they wanted. Now they’re separate, but next door. My cousin has breakfast at his parents’ every morning, and the baby stays with her grandma and great-grandma during the day.

    Another friend’s father is now bedridden, or wheelchair ridden. He is nearing 100, but his face literally lights up when he sees his sons or daughters-in-law. Although the two sons live in different cities, they take turns in taking care of him. Obviously, doing so means that one amongst the husband & wife are tied down at home, but they don’t even grumble. They even take him around when both of them have to go somewhere, like a hill station or a trip around the city.

    And on the other hand, we have cases where parents are kept at home just so that they can mind the grandchildren, or secure the home when no one else is present. But lets not list them here. We already have enough darkness as it is. Let candles like those above illuminate.

    Regards,
    Grondmaster

    PS: Why not my story? Well, my paternal grandparents practiced family planning way back then, having only one set of twins – my father & my aunt. My grandpa passed away about 15 years ago, and since then my grandma has been traveling, conducting Vipassana camps around the year. The only time she’s home is when its monsoon. And this year, even that’s threatened, so I’ll be missing her even during the rains. – Gronde

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    1. Don’t try to categorize yourself. Better or worse is not the question. The intention, the will and the love– that’s all that matter. Your examples amply prove my point that generation Y is one caring generation. It is also trying to come to terms with the changing scenraio.
      Your grandma is a case in point of the increasing number of the older generation remaining active till a ripe old age. But the question is what is the solution if it is not possible to live close to each other? It is a real situation, you know..

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      1. Siddharth · · Reply

        if i may, i feel that the real solution to the situation, where we can’t live close to our parents, is to live as close as possible or at least be in a position to come to them in a reasonable time frame… yes if one is not living in the same city it can be a bit difficult but we need to be practical in one respect… our parents are growing old every day. Sooner or later there will be a medical emergency suddenly. In such a scenario, it would be prudent to have a plan ready well in advance. No one can say when something will happen but when it does happen we should be able to react without losing our heads due to nervousness.
        And for all the people who think it is the best to leave our old people with a domestic help… i live in pune (ok my parents and grandmother live in pune… don’t get technical) and there is a rising spate of crime committed on old people in their homes… and the common thread among most of them is the domestic help being hand in glove with the perpetrators…

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        1. Siddharth, that’s a good solution and most practical one too. But when they need nursing care and it is not possible to stay with them, then what? As i said, the problem is only going to become bigger in the coming years. We need nursing homes like in the West, with the children keeping an eye on their parents frequently. Like you say, leaving old people with servants is not a good idea at all.

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  7. We belong to the same category…I do have a younger brother but he’s living in a different city from my parents for his job right now…but there’s one relief…he’s studying alongside and is himself determined to go back to the city where he’s grown up and live with our parents and look after them once he completes his studies 🙂

    Sadly, the story of my in-laws is not as reassuring. Both of them are diabetes and heart patients and their health is only dwindling. We’ve tried over and over again to make them come and stay with us, but they curtly refuse! We’re left with no option but to try and visit them as often as we can, and make do with this very uncomfortable arrangement.

    I’m the one to bear the brunt of it even more. When I want to visit my parents my in-laws feel I’m ignoring them, and vice versa. We’re both juggling between them all the time, with no time to plan for ourselves. 😦

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    1. As i pointed out to Grond, such examples vindicate my faith in the younger generation. Wish your brother all the best in his efforts to settle with your parents.

      More and more older people prefer having their own set ups but would like to care for their grandchildren. Many in my family and friend circle are taking care of their grandchildren at their homes. the kids are picked up by the parents in the evening. Works. But like Grond says, many use the older generation as mere babysitters, which is not a very pleasant situation.

      It is sad to hear about your in-laws though. They perhaps don’t realise how lucky they are to have such caring children! Keep trying, maybe they will change their minds one day.

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  8. Siddharth · · Reply

    Hi ma’am… A thought provoking post indeed. For the record, my sister and I both grew up with my paternal grandparents around as we all shared a home. I saw them take care of us when we were kids, allowing my parents to go to their respective jobs without worrying about us kids… and then saw my parents care for them as they grew older. Since I lost my maternal grandfather quite early, and my maternal grandmother lived in Delhi, my paternal grandparents really were the only grandparents I ever knew. Recently, my grandfather passed away. Even in his last days, he was bedridden but would talk to us kids regularly on phone. In fact, I spoke to him hours before he breathed his last. And always, his first question would be “How are you?”. While the death of my maternal grandparents did not affect me too much since I had never been able to spend too much time with them, grandfather’s death really hit very close to home. And it did bring me to terms with our mortality. He went a happy and content man – having seen both his kids settle down as well as seeing their respective kids in decent jobs and with bright futures ahead. After this, I told my mum “I would like both of you to stay with me so you never miss this experience”. Her advice was very practical: “We can stay close to each other, even next doors if required but the house must be different. I don’t want to be selfish by denying you the luxury afforded to me by your grandparents but at the same time I don’t want your wife and you to have to ask permission for everything. You need to be able to do it your own way.”
    I feel that this is very sound advice where the parents and the kids live together without interfering in each others lives so that they are there to help each other out and still not inconvenience the other. As you have mentioned, with most people of my generation growing up with more open mindsets this may actually be the way forward.

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    1. I second your mother’s sentiments in this regard. While the older generation needs the security of living near dear ones, the younger generation with both spouses working in most cases, needs its space too. the arrangement of living near each is the best in such circumstances.

      That way the children have the benefit of living close to their grandparents too. but here the question is, how feasible it is and what the solution is if it is not possible.

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