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Monday, August 1, 2011

Senior Momentum

Somewhere In The Center

Summer always seems to slowly fade away and suddenly we know it’s gone -- unlike Autumn who rages around in all her colors, then just drops her gown and goes to bed!   Summertime can swing you back and forth between sweltering days and cool crisp nights, then leave you like a summer love affair -- mellow but exhausted.  Just when you’re used to the slow lane, you have to gear up and do all that stuff that Fall and Winter demand. 
One great thing about Summer is the way it provides a rationale for almost every kind of malingering!   The unplanned trip, the overspent plastic, the endless stream of houseguests.  All great, but exhausting. 
And all of that somehow brought to mind a rather new aspect of “malingering.”  It involves a “new role” that is challenging many senior grandparents – and which walks on the hairy edge of fairness vs. opportunity.
As persons in our 60’s, 70’s and 80’s we are often speaking from entirely different perspectives than contemporary parents, businesspersons, and certainly the youth group.  Some of what we notice is not only sobering, but is literally changing the assumptive landscape of child rearing and nurturing, along with the very flexible definitions of “family” per se.
To begin with, I am personally very familiar with the concept of the “extended family.”   It is anything but a new social concept.  In my own family, several of the family groups lived in combined households, and that arrangement provided as many advantages as it presented conflicts. But it worked for the purposes at hand:  shared work, shared responsibilities, shared roles, safety, emotional support, and companionship.
A close cousin of mine recalls living in the combined household of our grandparents for many of her early formative years.  Years later, she and her husband shared their household with their daughter and her young family.  When her parents became elder and dependent, they joined the home, which then sheltered four generations.  This scenario spans the years from the late1930’s through this writing in 2011.   It’s works; and it’s nothing new.

Here’s what seems to be new.   To my way of thinking, there is a great difference between the natural evolution of a way-of-living concept, and the sad spectre of irresponsibility that seems to be overshadowing some of the family structures evolving – by default -- today.   They are not-quite-combined households; but definitely mutually impacted  -- imposed? – lives.

We have children having children that (for all practical purposes) they turn over to their parents to raise while they race through unfinished childhoods and teen age.  (Is that one of the risks we take and prices we pay for our hard-won women’s sexual liberation, or is it just youth trying to hang on when it may be too late?)
The times dictate that families must circle the wagons and help in our society of high unemployment, low wages, and dire financial conditions.  Of course.   And,
I would never trade a moment of the times my granddaughter was entrusted to my care. 
But there is a slivver of elder abuse developing where many grandparents are being denied the respite they have earned from their own childbearing and rearing years!  There are many who are being leveraged by imposed guilt and conscience into saying “yes” when they need to say “no” to the responsibility for infants, and toddlers they can no longer sprint after and snatch out of harm’s way.
It’s a dialog that has to be had.  Somewhere in the center is a happy medium that can evolve into better balance.  Extended family concepts vary.  Over-extended elders – trying to function with young parent energy – is a dangerous game.

Zoë Tummillo is a Business & Marketing Consultant/Trainer/Commercial Writer, dba COMMUNICATION CONCEPTS, in private practice since 1974.   In addition to Commercial work, she writes “Senior Momentum:  A Series of Situations”ã; and essay memoirs of growing up first generation Italian American:  “Pieces of My Path”ã.  To contact her -- email: