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1. People are living longer and having higher expectations about quality of life during their elder years. While it is great that life expectancy has increased dramatically during the past century one of the unintended consequences is that care for increasingly elderly parents has become a major problem for most middle aged couples. Compounding this issue is the fact that so often elderly parents don’t live in the same community or even the same region of the country as their offspring adding expenses and practical challenges of caring for them.
2. Children need parental care for much longer periods of time than in the past. Much has been written about how adolescence has now been extended such that it has become much more difficult for young adults to become independent from their parents in a timely way relative to previous generations. In the past, once young adults completed high school or college, they would get jobs, find a mate, and become independent adults. Now, so many young adults well into their 20’s and even 30’s are still highly dependent upon their parents. Many college graduates move back in with their parents after their education is completed for example. A sluggish economy as well as the increasing need for additional education beyond college make these matters worse for parents.
3. Families are more complex than in the past often meaning middle aged couples have more people to care for. One of the unintended consequences of a divorce rate that hovers around 45% of all first marriages is that there are many more people to take care of. Think about it. If you have been divorced once or twice you might have a number of both biological and step-children to attend to. Additionally, you might have a number of biological parents and step-parents to care for too.
4. Expectations among our dependents are high. The costs of care for both young and elderly dependents have increased dramatically in recent generations as well as the expectations of a “good enough” life. Elders are not content sitting in a rocking chair all day while children aren’t content playing with dolls or playing ball in the street. Structured activities, travel, entertainment, medical care and so forth all cost money and lots of it.
So, what is a middle aged couple to do? Unfortunately there are no magic answers but what we can do is try to talk about it among ourselves to support each other in honest and open ways and try our best not to feel guilty when we can’t do enough for everyone who demands attention and resources from us.