Don’t depend on your children

Consider the reality of modern living, where one is unwilling to make adjustments for the other, fond as we all are of our preferences, habits and indulgences. This is true for the parent as it is for the grown up child by UMA SHASHIKANT

When she unexpectedly lost her husband, our friend was not prepared for her new equation with her grown up children. She thought it would be tough to live alone and decided to stay six months each with both her children. After a year, she is disillusioned, confused and worried. It is not like our times, she rued. Most of us know that it will never be like our times; it can’t be. The post-independence generation has long recognized that old age will be different for them. The joint family system has long broken down; children live far away and pursue careers that parents don’t fully comprehend; and parents have saved and set aside funds to lead an independent retired life and prefer it over moving in with the children. Some exceptions are always there, but a shift in mindset about dependence on grown children has come about.

But the severance is far from clear and complete. We remain culturally tied to the ideas of sacrifice, servitude, deference to elders, and we celebrate dependence as a mark of collaborative living. Grown up children continue to live with their parents; grandparents participate actively in bringing up their grandchildren; and parents expect their children to look after them when they see that the circumstance warrants it. Expectations from both sides remain about being available to chip in and take care of the other.

These expectations are costly. They require time, resources and effort, which may be offered with simmering resentment, as experienced by our friend. She felt like a stranger in her children’s homes, because they had moved on to make their own lives based on their own beliefs and preferences. My friend does not identify with it any more. She called me to ask how she could keep her relationship healthy and avoid resentment. What one could expect realistically, she asked.

First, prioritize your old age comforts and make sure you have provided for it. If there is a house you own, as my friend does, continue to keep it and live in it during your time. Have a corpus on hand to manage your expenses. Do not spend the last rupee on your children, but set aside funds for yourself. This is something most of us routinely do, and my friend had romantic ideas of winding up and distributing everything before her decision to live with her children. Fortunately she decided to give it a try before doing anything drastic.

Second, recognize that your life stage and your children’s life stage are very different. As a retired person, you have all the time; you have limited responsibilities towards others; and you may be secure with your funds for the future. Your children have their career to chase, children to raise, and corpus to build. Depending on them for time, attention and resources can be draining for them and create resentment. Rely on your circle of likeminded friends instead. Find purpose that is beyond hanging out with your grown up children and their families.

Third, your children love and care for you and will be willing to support you if you are able to take care of your normal everyday routines, without demanding their time. This assumes the relationship is cordial. Speak to them about your fears and apprehensions and get them to commit to helping with what might be truly a tough situation for you to deal with alone. It may be easier for them to hire or pay for support services, attendants, domestic help and such. Make it easier for them to allocate resources for your specific needs.

Fourth, take on large ticket expenses only if they are willing to bear the costs. In most cases, children are generous about enabling your needs if they are earning well. Repairs and renovations to the house, ticketing and travel, health care and hospitalization, are all big ticket items that require resources that you may not be able or willing to allocate out of your corpus. Make your choices about how to incur and manage these expenses with your children. Make it a joint decision if you choose to move cities; prefer palliative care over hospitalization and so on.

Fifth, question your allocations to gifting and adhering to customs for the sake of it. There is no end to buying stuff. And as our experiences show, we will be able to see that what we buy for others is many times superfluous and needless. Consider your allocation of money for items of expenses that are easily avoided. In this day and age, clothes, jewellery, artifacts, household items are all chosen with a large dose of personal preference. There is little merit in buying something for your children or their families and resenting that they did not use it.

Sixth, avoid feeling entitled to the wealth of your children. We could demand that they remain grateful for what we did for them when we brought them up; but they are busy bringing up their children in turn. My friend felt that she should ask her children to deposit a fixed sum of money into her account every month. This despite her having an adequate corpus, income from her investments and a widow’s pension from the government. The allowance is likely to be irregular and be a source of bickering. Seek the children out as an exception, rather than as a norm. They have their priorities for their income and you must not grudge that.

Seventh, consider the reality of modern living, where one is unwilling to make adjustments for the other, fond as we all are of our preferences, habits and indulgences. This is true for the parent as it is for the grown up child. a Instead of resenting one another, plan to and provide for living independently and keep the relationships pleasant and affable.

Many of these ideas are so well known to us. That is what we thought as a group of friends including the one who is now disappointed. We consistently professed these things in our conversations about aging. One real experience and our friend threw it all to the winds and has returned resentful, angry and confused. Makes me worry that we may not be fully ready for independence at old age after all.

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