Talk about a bad trip. The vacation plans of Baby Boomers these days may have more to do with Medicare than Club Med.
It's a fact of life confronting more and more boomers. The most affluent and mobile generation in years finds itself with aging, often ailing parents. And because their parents frequently live in distant locales, it can mean giving up vacation time to care for them.Ross Goldstein is the author of the fortysomething: "Claiming the Power and Passion of Your Midlife Years," recently published by Jeremy Tarcher Inc. He has a clinical psychology practice in San Francisco that focuses on working with adults in midlife.
"It presents very real practical, psychological and emotional burdens. One way to resolve some of them is by taking vacation time to look in on your parents," he says.
The phenomenon can come to be thought of as "duty vacations." Goldstein notes that Americans are living 28 years longer than they did at the turn of the century, and the fastest growing segment of the population is senior citizens.
"And while older Americans today are more vital and more healthy and more able to take care of themselves, inevitably there comes a time in nearly everyone's life when they have to care for a dependent parent. This is a cold shock for the fortysomething group. This is a wake-up call," he says.
"There are lots of obligations they thought they would escape that they are not. Caring for aging parents is not something baby boomers ever thought they would be doing."
Besides the potential resentment engendered by giving up travel to a more exotic destination, adults who spend vacations at their parents' home tend to quickly grow uncomfortable.
"One thing we know is whenever we are with our parents for an extended time, we begin to behave like children and we don't like that. I refer to it as the three-hour rule. It states that three hours after you arrive home, you are back to the age when you first left home," says Goldstein.
But there are options. Just because one's parents need assistance, it does not necessarily mean you must swear off pleasurable vacations.
"One thing I recommend to my clients is they not devote a whole vacation to taking care of their parents. There will be a lot of waiting time that is not usefully used," Goldstein says.
"If your parents are in another city, stop in on the way to another destination. Look in on them for a few days, then go somewhere else. Then stop in again on the way back."
If you do spend your entire vacation in the city where your parents live, he suggests not staying in their home the whole time. Staying in a hotel at least some of the time tends to provide more of a sense of getting away.
Still another option can be simply taking your parents with you on a vacation. After all, they did take you on quite a few vacations back when you were probably less than the ideal traveling companion.
"But the thing I would emphasize for people thinking of that option, just as you would with any other couple, don't expect to spend all your time with your parents. If you travel with your parents, make sure you build in some free time - for them and for you."
Goldstein also recommends making sure your parents actually want and need your presence in quite the way you think they do.
"Have a frank discussion with parents about how much care they really want. Often times these things get negotiated without any real discussion, so the child gets involved with more than a parent wants or is willing to accept," he says.
"Often, parents are more able to accept assistance from a neutral party than from their own children. And when their children try to do too much, it leads to exhaustion, which leads to resentment, which leads to avoidance, which leads to guilt."
He suggests checking around the community where one's parents live for assistance that may be available from visiting-nurses associations, social agencies and the growing number of private elder-care services.
National referral organizations for such services include The National Association of Private Geriatric Care Managers at (602) 881-8008 in Tucson; Children of Aging Parents at (215) 945-6900 in Levittown, Pa.; and Aging Network Services at (301) 657-4329 in Bethesda, Md.
Above all, Goldstein urges boomers not to view the situation as simply choosing the lesser of many evils.
"I don't want to paint it all negatively because there is a payoff. By virtue of doing these things you allow yourself to experience a connection with your parents. By fulfilling your responsibilities, you feel good about yourself. You become more focused and invested in your family.
"If you see this as a burden without benefit, it becomes more of a burden. So if you can frame this as doing something in your own best interests, it becomes less burdensome."