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Generation Gap: Who Adjusts?

Posted: July 21, 2013

I am now on a vacation visiting my children in America. As it always happens I find myself wanting to wind up everything and relocate to any place in USA to be able to visit them more often. Grandchildren are always an attraction. More so when they are in a mood to interact with us i.e. grandparents. A few years from now they may not even have the time or inclination to do so. Anyway that is beside the point. I want to analyze the pros and cons of relocating to USA.

My argument:

If it had been fifty years ago parents would not think twice about moving in with their children – read sons. It was their right. But is it so now? Why then are Indian parents leading lonely lives in India? What is stopping us now? Even in India I see parents preferring to stay in an establishment of their own even if their children live in the same town. This seems to be better arrangement. If this is the present scenario would it make sense to relocate to a foreign country, set up a home here and expect one’s children to support us financially? We certainly do not have the money or means to lead an independent life in America. Wouldn’t the relationship sour sooner rather than later if we had to depend on them entirely for our upkeep?

My daughter says:

With parents getting on in age there can always be health issues that need immediate attention. With a job and family to attend to it would not be possible for them to fly to India at moment’s notice. And even if they managed to come they could not stay on for long. It is always better to plan and prepare one’s self to a life with one or the other of our children. We could either live with them or rent a small unit for ourselves at an accessible distance but clinging on to our so called independence will not help. We would only complicate our own lives and theirs.

I cannot say much against this argument. My own maternal uncle and aunt lead a lonely and sedentary life in Gobichettipalayam because their son lives in Dubai and the country’s law does not permit parents to live with their children. Their son does his best and so do his daughters. However, both my uncle and aunt are sick and my aunt is bed ridden too. They need the care that only children can provide but it would be selfish of them to expect the son to leave his job and return to India at a time when his expenses are soaring what with children’s education and the demands of a hectic life style to be taken care of. The next best arrangement is to have a nurse attending them and the daughter who lives in the same town checking on them on a daily basis. If she has to leave town another sister comes over and takes charge for a few days. Society is quick to blame the son and paint him black but I know him better. He is a caring son and dutiful too. But he has his own limitations.

There are several other parents whose children have flown the nest and face the same dilemma as me. There are times when I feel that in the name of civil behavior we are no longer open with our own children. We are unable to communicate with them openly and/or express our specific requirements be it our food or life style preferences. As a result we do tend to long to return to our niche – our comfort zone so to say.

A couple known to me surrendered their green card and chose to remain in India due to adjustment problems that kept cropping up during their stay in the US. Their son and daughter in law, both working full time were always busy and they could not take care of their hyperactive grandchildren aged 4 and 6 even for a few hours after school. So the kids went to a day care after school and returned along with their parents. Food prepared by the mother went untouched because the son and daughter in law preferred a light salad meal for dinner and the children found her preparations too spicy and oily. No one complained but the resentment that kept building up within them burst out and each group blamed the other.The older couple felt unwanted and left out while the younger couple said that they really did not expect them to pitch in and help with child care or otherwise. They had only to relax and enjoy a retired life. Had there been open communication the relationship could have been more inclusive and a midway compromise could have been reached. All this happened in a set up where all those concerned were good at heart, expectations were negligible, intentions were good and suggestions well meant. They are back in India leading their life as per their own terms preferring it to living with their son in America.

This and other such stories act as deterrents and I must admit that I too am wary of shifting bases. But the truth in my daughter’s argument cannot be ignored. I think my young readers could give me their perspective and let me know which arrangement would be better- Burdening children from a distance by subjecting them to a guilt trip or imposing ourselves on them and squeezing them dry knowing very well that the few lac that we cling on to as our asset mean almost nothing to them with the value of the Indian Rupee tumbling downhill?

The Hip Grandma lives in a small industrial town called Jamshedpur and despite all its

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  1. What do you want to do in your retirement should be the only question to ask, in my opinion. I know of people who go there and yearn for India. While healthy, things work very well in the US but when one is sick, when kids have to take time off to take care….I know, I faced that with my sister’s health there and was penalized for not calling every day from her hospital bed. My job was on the edge every time and this was non-recessionary times.

    A good community home here is a good option – there are those near Coimbatore, settlements where people have nice lives, live in their small homes, get meals, get care, there’s a space for family when they visit…works well. Plus health costs are pretty dealable here, still, even in private hospitals. Can bankrupt in the US.

    I don’t know – for me, the warmth of India with its many cons will always win hands down.

  2. I am a mother of a 7 year old and my retirement plans are to be back in India once she’s off to college!!! You must be an amazingly strong and an adaptable person to even consider this alternative of shifting bases, for, even the busiest of places in U.S. can be lonely as compared to India. Since you have lived here you must pretty much know how it goes ..even after so many years I still hate the evenings here in the residential areas, not a soul on the road. I guess, I shouldn’t sound all too pessimistic, its not bad, its just a different life from where we have been raised, but if you are happy and content to be with just your family, i guess you could stay anywhere! p.s. I know it may sound biased, but staying with a daughter would be very different from staying with a son these days and it might prove to be one of the best things you ever did!

  3. I lost my husband in 2005 when i was 58..both sons married and 4 grandchildren.One son lived in US and the other in Bangalore where I also live.I had the option of living with them or alone in a big house.I decided to do neither and built a small kuteeram in an asharm in Mysore and moved there.My sons.well used to my maverick ways,supported me in this decision.My aged parents lived in an apartment close by so it was a perfect arrangement for all.I even got a very satisfying assignment as Life Coach with INFOSYS which was located right behind the ashram. I learnt driving and got myself a car so I could be mobile.Joined the local Rotary Club.Then mama died and dad was alone so moved with him to take care of him as my 4 siblings live abroad.Last year,my brother from Canada came to take care of him .Then my son from US relocated to Bangalore and started his enterprise where he wanted me to be a full time consultant.So,wound up dad’s apartment and my kuteeram…Brother went back and I have moved to Bangalore with my 91 year old dad and live in a rented apartment close to my US returned son(who lives in the family place I lived in with my hubby) and work in my son’s office as Director Corporate Radio.My older son and family also live some Kms away.We all meet over weekends and are there for each other!!

    • Nice to have found an arrangement that suits all. if only more people deal with their old age in this manner a lot of heartaches could be avoided.

  4. Jyoti Bhargava -

    A very timely read for me as I’ve been suggesting an elderly friend to move in with her son in Canada. She says that even at 85 she prefers the social life Delhi offers her as life in Canada tends to get quiet and isolated. And like you said, she is too civil to communicate her own needs to her son. She treasures the freedom she has in her own space but clearly finds maintaining her own place and cooking etc. too onerous.
    In my mid-forties, I feel that we must take care of our parents’ financial and physical needs but, if possible, stay in houses close to each other or on separate floors. This way both sides continue to stay connected but still not govern each other’s life. Elders need their own interests and routine to keep them looking forward to each new day. Many old school Indian elders feel that they are done with all learning, focussed reading, creative pursuits and just want ‘to talk’ to their children or friends about times gone by. That self-limiting outlook puts them in a depression when they see children and grandchildren following their own goals and the resultant schedule p.

  5. Relocation seems a very definite step. How about you try living there for six-eight months straight and see how you like it?

  6. Hi all,
    Thanks for your inputs. I too realise that it is a different world out here and like sangitha I too have a bias for the warmth that the Indian community exudes despite its shortcomings. I just need to prepare myself mentally to adjust if need be.

  7. Hip Grandma, like every thing else this is subjective and waries from family to family. However, the rules of any engagement applies to this too. Keep lines of communication open. Preserve your old connections but forge new ones. Preserve old hobbies/ interests or create new ones. Most problems stem when either party becomes too dependent on the other for anything. Maintain your financial independence if possible. Most self worth issues seem to stem from it.

    The move can/will be worth it only when either parties feel they can talk openly about issues.

  8. Lakshmi: you’ve hit the nail on the head. An arrangement works only when open communication is possible and one feels included. The arrangement where elders are treated as guests of honour or as outsiders is suffocating and painful. But in the name of an inclusive arrangement if they want to have a say in things that are better dealt with by the youngsters it could be equally frustrating. Imagining that the son is being starved because he is served a light dinner instead of the elaborate four course meal he relished as a child will not help. HAVING LIVED ABROAD HIS FOOD PREFERENCE HAS CHANGED AND HIS WIFE HAS NO ROLE IN IT. Intelligence in defining one’s place in the household is the key.

  9. What is all this noise about communication? Communication is an effective tool but only when it is a conversation between two parties which has never existed in Indian culture. It has always been from top to bottom or from parents to children. If children want to say something to their parents(which usually is a difference of opinion) they are blamed for being disrespectful, disobedient, insensitive, arrogant and insulting their parents or parents in law. When after 15 years of our marriage, my husband and myself finally sat down to discuss certain issues with my parents in law in a very polite manner, they just could not handle it and the bitter words and blame game that followed stopped even that little communication which we had earlier. And as you said, despite keeping good intentions, love for each other and so on. Indian culture has to completely do away with the line – WE ARE PARENTS, WE KNOW BETTER THAN YOU!

    On the other note – Hip Grandma, I am a huge fan of yours, get inspired by you and see myself connecting to you more in future. I might get some answers to the confusing questions which i have in my mind regarding parents and parents in law.

  10. Bhawana: Communication of the kind you mention is a distant dream. Expression of one’s preference is also not well taken. But in one’s twilight years parents too feel scared to express their preferences for fear of annoying their children. More so if they are dependent on them financially. I have seen parents manipulating the concern of their children towards parents and I have known children doing the same. I suppose individuals differ in dealing with situations. However, you are right. At least in India parents seem less open to accepting the fact that their sons have branched out and need their space.

    Thanks for your compliment. I may sound like a preacher on a pedestal but it is encouraging to have youngsters accepting you.

  11. This is a serious predicament for the older folks. I once read a book that said something like ‘growth in life is a process of learning to give up what you take for granted’. From birth itself, we go through a complex process of ‘giving up’ – infants should learn to give up complete care by their mother, toddlers should give up feeling of omnipotence and complete possession of parents, young teens must give up dependency of childhood, and so on. When at any stage one refuses to let go of what is so cherished, he becomes a problem person. In the final stages of life, one will have to give up authority over one’s children, independence of physical health, and ultimately the self and life itself.

    I think many old people learn the hard way that by not giving up their possession of their children and coming in way of their choices to live their life in their own terms, in a way, they scuttle the growth of themselves as well as their children. It’s certainly the hardest stage of life – failing health, loneliness, fear of death etc but I have seen some brave and matured old people do the right thing and learn to suffer what is inevitable without bothering their children or anybody else.

  12. Mohan: Well said. If it happens the way you say I may not have much to blog about.:-) but letting go is easier said than done. Set in our ways we oldies cannot give up old furniture and the like. Letting children go is a far cry-but believe me we are trying!

  13. Well, I am a 24 year old living in US by myself while all my family (my parents and two sisters) live in India. I sort of understand both perspectives.

    I think the most suitable option is to live close to your children. If they are doing well financially, they really wouldn’t mind spending money on you. The problem comes when parents start interfering too much in the children’s life based on their experiences which may not be relevant in the current situation. So, if you are living separately, but close, your kids and grand kids will all enjoy your company. And I do understand that it hurts to leave “your own home” permanently. So you can come up with an arrangement where instead of visiting your kids in US for 4 months and living in India for 8 months, you turn in around. So, if you spend 4 months in India, it wouldn’t hurt you as much and will probably not give you the feeling of being uprooted from home.

    • Mona: thanks for your input. My daughter also suggests the same and asks me to apply for a green card. I have a ten year visa that I feel is better than the obligation to travel to the US each year just because I have a green card. I have around 2 years and four months of service and will reconsider the green card option after that. I too know of a Gujrati couple who stay in the US for 8 to 9 months and return to India in winter when their daughter/daughter in laws parents come over. The arrangement seems to be working. AS you rightly say, it is the willingness to adapt/let go and know one’s limit that decides how and why an arrangement works.

  14. Both my sister and I are abroad and our parents are in India, so it’s a constant question for us. My mum says that they wouldn’t want to live with us but in a home if they really find they can’t live alone. I however don’t like the idea of my parents in a home particularly when if are not mobile or able to express their needs clearly. Maybe because my impression is of the charitable ones where the elderly seem to be pushed around by the wardens.

    In my case, I could actually think about bringing my parents to HK – although it would be expensive, it would be cheaper than the US where my sister is because we have public healthcare here. However, I know my parents wouldn’t like life here.

    I actually think it’s hard for elderly people to uproot. Some manage to, but at that age it’s hard to build a new social circle and it’s the age when I’d imagine a social circle is important. The conflicts that arise are not just about generation gap (though I’m sure that plays a role) but just people living under one roof or in close quarters is hard. Even husbands and wives find it a struggle to adjust, I’ve seen the same issues with roommates where if one flatmate has an active social life and the other doesn’t, the one that doesn’t feels left out and the one that is social keeps trying to escape the pressure of having to hang out with that person. For elderly parents, if they’re financially dependent on the kids and cut off from their comfort zone and friends circle, they’d feel insecure and more likely to take the usual conflicts badly.

    I know a couple that moved in with the MIL (in India) after several years of living apart and are very happy with the arrangement. So it is possible. I actually think it’s slightly easier to adjust if you move in with your daughter, provided you had a good relationship with her earlier. A separate apartment nearby is a good idea but I can see it getting lonely if you’re in a new country with no friends of your own initially.

    I know elderly couples who’ve done the half-half thing; that might be a good way to go. Or as someone suggested, do an extended trip and see how comfortable you are living with your child.

    In my case, my husband is pushing to move back anyway, and my parents are the big reason I’d do it.

    • The Bride: even beforeI got married living in an ashram like Aoro ville in Pondicherry had appealed to me. But even senior citizens home exploit situations and squeeze money from unsuspecting NRI children. So I am not so sure anymore. I plan to keep my options open and go for the one that is,ost suitable.

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