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?