In the course of one of his repetitive self-pitying anti-babyboomer rants, Paul Watson raises a question that has interested me for some time. That is, the extent to which modern Australian society still involves some reasonably intact version of an extended family structure, where younger generations acknowledge and fulfill obligations towards their aged parents:
Put bluntly, the boomers have never believed in a future for anyone past themselves (possibly barring their own offspring*). … Not surprisingly, general boomer greed and callousness often extends to the personal realm, in terms of their relationships with their own parents.
The state’s remaining apparatus, so much of which has been mass-stripped and melted-down by boomers, is thus expected to devote a disproportionate portion of its stretched resources to caring for parents-of-boomers.
One of the theories about why Mark Latham announced Labor’s very expensive Medicare Gold policy for the over-75s (who mostly don’t vote Labor) was that it would appeal to younger Australians fearful that they might lose their inheritance if their aged parents got sick and were forced to “squander” their accumulated assets on medical bills.
Leaving aside Paul’s strange, pathological hatred of babyboomers, however, I’m wondering whether it’s actually true that younger generations of Australians (babyboomer or otherwise) resent caring for their parents, or contrive to avoid doing so. It certainly isn’t my own family experience, nor does it accord with my observations of friends’ behaviour.
My former wife Jenny and I built a granny flat and cared for her aged mother for several years after her retirement, until Rene could afford to get a flat of her own. And my sister Sue and her husband Adam nursed Adam’s mother for the last year of her life as she died of cancer (selfless behaviour that had disastrous consequences, as I explained in this post).
Moreover, and despite their unfortunate experience with his mum, Sue and Adam are about to do it again. My father is 80, and having increasing problems with blood circulation in his legs. He’s had a number of vein grafts, but there are no more healthy ones available. Next time a vein blocks up (which could be any time), the doctors have told him they’ll have no choice but to amputate his leg. Since my parents live on a very hilly block in a house with lots of stairs, there’s no way dad would manage there once he loses his leg. Sue and Adam (both babyboomers like me, I should note) have kindly offered to accommodate my parents at their place when they’re forced to sell the family home.
Moreover, as far as I can see, this sort of selfless fulfillment of extended family obligations remains very common in Australian society. Many of my middle-aged friends and acquaintances have found themselves in similar situations, and are willingly caring for aged parents (or did so until the latter died). I really do wonder whether Australia is as selfish and atomised a society as popular wisdom would have us believe. Does anyone know of any academic or statistical research on this subject? And what are readers’ own impressions and experiences?