A provocative new Reuters article published Friday is casting light a dilemma faced by children whose parents have split up after decades of marriage: the need to take care of their aging parents in two separate households instead of one.
Indeed, as the article points out, most children anticipate that, one day and in some way, they’ll support their parents financially, emotionally and socially. There’s nothing new about that. It’s been happening for generations.
However, what’s different today is that, as more seniors untie the knot and partake in a trend that some are dubbing “grey divorce,” they’re unable to support each other – which places an added burden on both parents and their children.
“It’s definitely not an easy situation, and there have been so many emotional hurdles,” Devin Pope, a 33-year old whose parents divorced a few years ago after 27 years of marriage, told Reuters. “It’s been a few years now [since the divorce], and it can be very discouraging. But that’s how life is sometimes.”
Apparently, according to experts, that’s how “life is going to be sometimes” for millions of people; not just Pope and his siblings.
In a study published earlier this year in the journal The Gerontologist, researchers warned against a rising tide of pressures, difficulties, stresses and challenges that the children of the US’s over 15 million divorced boomers are going to face when their parents enter their golden years — apart.
“We found that unmarried boomers are much more economically vulnerable than married boomers are,” Susan Brown of
And for the romantics out there who shun such dismal predictions, and believe all that drifting seniors simply need is a bit more love in their lives to stick together – sorry, but there aren’t enough Love Boats on the planet to carry the increasing passenger load.
“Since 1990, the divorce rate of those over 50 has doubled,” commented Brown. “In 2010, the number of 50-plus divorcees was around 643,000. Even if the divorce rate remains flat over the next 20 years – and that’s a very conservative assumption – that number will increase by a third, to 828,000.”
And guess what? There’s another variable that could make Pope’s plight seem downright festive by comparison: step-families.
Indeed, children can be tasked not only to support their birth parents financially and emotionally, but also to lend a hand to step-parents. And when you add the potential complications of trying to coordinate a support system with step-siblings and relatives who may have been total strangers a short while ago, and the phrase “ticking time bomb” seems hardly melodramatic.
It’s a thorny problem that experts like Joy Loverde, author of The Complete Eldercare Planner, says requires cooperation; not confrontation.
“As soon as you have an inkling that a divorced parent might need assistance, it definitely requires a family meeting [with all step-siblings],” Loverde told Reuters. “Everyone needs to be there, to open up about any concerns, to start sharing responsibilities. Start talking about it right now; do not wait.”
And of course, on top of this – or, some might say, at the very bottom — are the children of divorced seniors. Whether part of a biological or blended family, they, too, need to live their lives, and in many cases, keep their own marriages afloat.
“The biggest challenge is balancing it all,” added Pope, who is only four years removed from being a carefree 20-something. “After all, you still have to have your own life, too.”
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