Interesting Articles

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Mobility and Family

I have had a number of conversations lately about family, mobility, and what we do with our elderly. The other night I was talking to my housemate, Steven, about this. I was sharing with him my experience of nursing homes. During the first year or so of working as an EMT, I often transported people between hospitals and nursing homes or care facilities. The misery of most of the people in these places was so sad and depressing. On numerous occasions I had residents come up to me begging me to take them with me, to get them out of there. It just seemed wrong to me that the very people who nurtured us and loved us all our lives, once unable to care for themselves, are sent to these places to be kept out of the way until they die. I realize that there are many reasons for this and it is often impractical or impossible for family to continue taking on more responsibility as caretakers. But by talking to people from other countries and spending time in other countries myself, I have come to realize that in many parts of the world our American system would be simply unthinkable.
In talking to a man from Ghana about this, he told me that he would never do such a thing to his parents (nor would others from his village). Just a few days ago I was talking to a priest who worked for 20 years in Africa and said that it was normal to have three or four generations living together and that the elderly were always around children. He attributed this fact to keeping the seniors young (at heart and in body). I have witnessed in Mexico and El Salvador the strong family bonds and the way they take care of each other up to the very end – again, often with three or more generations living in the same home.
However, this rich family life has become very rare in the United States – mainly because of the mobility factor. I believe that mobility is good in a lot of ways. It allows us to have a wide variety of experiences and meet different kinds of people in different places. It gives us a more complete and global perspective of our world. However, there are some negative aspects as well, and I feel that the loss of the family experience is the most tragic consequence of American mobility. For more on the issue of mobility, check out this thought-provoking article entitled “The Decline of Middle America and the Problem of Meritocracy”. Closely connected to the mobility factor as a cause for the treatment of our elderly and the disintegration of the extended family, is the strong sense of individualism in our country. The desires and dreams of the individual come before all else in our culture, often leaving the family (and Christ’s calling to live out the Gospel) in the dust.
Of course to live this larger family life would involve some sacrifices (which might not be a bad thing – sometimes I think we in the U.S. would do well to make a few more sacrifices), but there are numerous blessing and benefits that would come out of it as well. These are some of the reasons I see that a multi-generational living situation would be of value to all involved.
  • As the previously mentioned priest suggested and as studies have concluded, the elderly benefit from having children around. Kids bring life and joy to an otherwise mundane and boring day. (I don’t think too many people would argue that the elderly would be happier in a nursing home than at home with their family.)
  • This relationship is also beneficial to the children. Hearing the tales of old captures their imaginations and gives them a better sense of history.
  • It eases the workload of caring for young children and the aged who need extra attention. There are more people around to help with these needs so it doesn’t fall to just one or two.
  • Costs associated with childcare or with hospice are greatly reduced, if not eliminated. The extremely high cost of nursing homes often is cause for relatives to work many extra hours and be stressed economically. This would be eliminated with a multi-generational household, and without having to work as much, more time could be spent with the family.
  • It provides a richer life experience for all involved, but especially for the children. It teaches them responsibility and compassion. It helps them learn to cooperate with, share with and care for others, rather than always aiming to fulfill their own selfish desires.
The conclusion of the above-mentioned article on mobility suggests that people stay in the area they grew up in, or at least eventually return to the area. I would add to that the suggestion to make an effort to remain close to extended family and maybe even, when one member or another can no longer support or care for themselves, to invite them into your own home. My housemate, Steven reminds us that as Christians, we will never be completely “at home” until we reach our true homeland, in heaven with the Lord. But he also makes the point that whatever homes we do have here in this world we should not cling to too tightly, but rather offer them to God, that they might be used to help others and build up the kingdom. The family life that I have described here kind of seems like a no-brainer to me, and it makes sense on so many different levels. But I also realize that it is much easier said than done. Jobs and careers and the demands of life often dictate where we live and for some people, broken or strained family relationships may make the suggestion much less appealing. I only hope that as time goes on, I will be able to follow my own advice.


Jason said...

There is also another point to be added: Skipping Generations relate better (i.e. having a grandparent discuss controversial subjects with a teen is often more successful than the parent).

Anonymous said...

However: there is also the call of the Lord. If the Lord calls you to another part of the country or (or world, for that matter) as He did with many of the apostles, to spread His word: you gotta follow that first. I guess that is the "good" part about mobility.