Your spouse may be imperfect, your children a problem, but chances are that the family crisis that takes most of your time has nothing to do with love or kids. Instead, boomers find that many family crises deal with elder care, better known as supervision of our parents. WFD, a Boston-based consulting firm, estimates that 18 percent of employees in the work force are responsible for care of elderly adults. Within the next five years, another 22 percent of today's workers expect to be forced to deal with relatives too old to care for themselves.
Compounding the anguish of dealing with parents who may be cantankerous, ill, financially unstable and emotionally exhausted is the worry about the ways elder care impacts the lives of those still in the work force. Absenteeism and inability to concentrate are only two symptoms of workers who juggle growing home and business tasks. Many of the letters addressed here are written because families seek ways to handle the increased responsibility when we become our parents' parents.Still, not all of the problems with elder care are about estates, wills and who gets what . . . or are they? Read the next letter, and see what you think.
Dear Lois: I am a 44-year-old man with a family at home in Silver Spring, Md., with a dear old uncle living on his own in St. Petersburg. He has been in less-than-great health and is having problems getting around the house. To help him, I contacted an agency to provide him with a companion to assist with chores around the house. A very professional Swedish gentleman at the agency set it up. Everything appeared to be in order when the aide arrived at Uncle's door - a 6-foot-tall, blond, blue-eyed knockout from Sweden. Well, she does his chores, prepares his afternoon and evening meals - and turns him on. He talks of inviting her on exotic trips and escorting her to the theater. I think he is out of touch with reality as, to my knowledge, the woman limits her role to the work and companionship.
How can I bring Uncle back down to earth?
Dear Nephew: Why try? Your uncle sounds happy to me. Tell me something. Did he want to take trips or go to the theater before Miss Sweden arrived? And second, has he taken these glamorous trips, and is he ordering theater tickets? Or is Dear Old Uncle spinning dreams with the kind of gossamer we all wish we had? Until Uncle names her in his will, and until you see her wearing Auntie's pearls, I think I'd smile and think about packaging Miss Sweden's brand of hospitality.
Dear Lois: I am a 51-year-old single-again grandmother of four with another child due soon. My problem is that my children seem only to want to call me when they want a baby sitter. I love my grandchildren and like to have them visit, but I don't love feeling that that's all my daughters want.
They rarely call or come by just to chat. I realize that they have children, homes and husbands, but a phone call to say, "Hi, Mom, just called to let you know I care," or something to that effect doesn't take so long. Do other parents feel this or am I being selfish? Should I be happy that they want me at all?
- Lonely for My Children
Dear Lonely: Of course you want to be loved for yourself and not for your ability to sit with the kids while parents do something more interesting and enjoyable. Maybe one way to get your children to appreciate you is to remind them that you can be fun, too. Why not suggest one night that you hire a baby sitter and that you go out with the parents? Let them know that you're happy to help them, but you want them to remember that you're still a woman with interests and the desire to be with her children - not just baby-sit the grandkids.
Dear Lois: This past holiday season my daughter asked her daughter Karina, age 2 1/2, what to buy a friend's baby. "Legos?" asked my daughter. Karina said, "No." "A doll?" "No. Him's a boy." "A truck maybe?" "No." "Well, what should we get Gregory?" Karina thought for a moment. "A credit card?"
- Gail Myers
Dear Gail: Let's give that girl credit.