Sea changes…..transforming filial roles
Retirement- it has been a recurring theme over the last few years!
In 2012, as I was brainstorming with my supervisor about possible thesis topics, I told her that I wanted to work on something relevant to migrants, specifically Indian migrants to Australia. Zeroing in further, the topic that caught my fancy was retirement. I finally did my 2 year research and thesis on the factors that influence retirement decisions of 1st generation Indian migrants.
Over the 2 years I had several community workshops, interviews, surveys and sessions with service providers all offered different points of view for the same issue. During a trip to India, I met with a focus group there to understand how Indians living in India plan their retirement, to compare with what I was seeing here. As I finished my work on the thesis, there were several things that stuck me.
So many of the issues affect people the same way. The worries that keep people awake and concerns they have, these see no boundaries and nor do they particularly care for your bank balance- in a way it was comforting to see that migration had not changed people all that much!
One of the things that struck me immensely was the guilt that so many felt- people in my generation, men and women in their 40’s and 50’s who have older parents living in India. Many of my generation have moved overseas, many live in India- among both sets of people, there are many whose parents don’t live with them. And this is for a huge number of reasons.
Sometimes it’s not practical, sometimes its personalities or lifestyle or financial. For people living overseas, it is hard- you depend on extended family in India to be there for many things. And it can be hit or miss, while everyone has good intentions, life is such that you cannot actually do it all. And a throwaway comment can cut you to the bone. And simple statements over the phone from your parents keep you awake for days. And even more difficult is the gratitude you feel for your family and friends who do the hard yards- it is not easy and you can never re-pay the favor!
For people in India, it is even harder, there is every expectation that your parents will stay with you, if not from them, from others. So many families have 2 sets of parents to look after and their own children and work and home as well to manage- It is certainly not easy!
In all of this, it seems logical that many who can would plan their retirement and move to more amenable facilities- but it seems not.
It amazed me that many I spoke to said they could not imagine their parents moving to an “old age home, as if they had no one to look after them”. Others were more prosaic, “it’s easier to have them here, then you don’t have to rush across the country for every doctor’s appointment”. And elders in talking about a retirement village would discuss it in fairly somber, sympathetic tones ” X has put his mum in an old age home” or “What option do they have, they have no one to look after them”
Where parents were staying in retirement villages, children would do everything possible to not refer to it as retirement living!
Words have such power, they normalise and rationalise things – we need to consciously change how we both think of and address these things. Even living overseas, it pains me to see many people casually mention that they have told their children not to put them in homes or that they will live in a outhouse in their kids houses or they have told their kids that they would look after their grandkids, so can they please stay with them! Really- while this may be in jest, it is scary!! In one of my sessions, one respondent said- I have told my daughter, it is fine, go where ever you want to work, I am fine, but after I am in my 80’s you must come back to Melbourne- who else is there to look after me?
So, this daughter may have to uproot her family and her career- and who knows if the daughter has in-laws who may well have the same situation! This may have been a joke, the daughter was just 20 and the man 52, but I wonder….
A good friend once said that our gen is cursed – our parents are not happy with us and neither are our children! And she also said that the next gen will not face this issue as we would be better planned…….I sure hope so! Let us not test those filial bonds