Contemplating issues facing the aging population on our planet (and therefore, facing us all) I became aware of the lack of positive role models for active aging and co-generational caring in families. In the US, where people over 60 are more than 30% of the population, only 2% of movie and television roles portray older adults, and then often in cameo/comedic roles.. What does this lack of role modeling mean for us? That we don’t have a strong cultural idea – coming out of the “nuclear family” post WWII era – regarding the needs of our Elders for meaningful relationships with younger adults and conversely, the need for all of us to “mind our elders.” Culturally, we lack a map for what healthy, positive co-generational sharing should look like, and how to live it out.
I cut my cultural teeth on the sitcoms of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. I remember when American television broke the color barrier and when women quit vacuuming in high heels and pearls (Thanks be to God!). Seniors, however, continue to remain quite invisible. Where is the show about life in the Assisted Living or retirement living that includes bicycling miles for an ice cream treat? British and Canadian television have done better integrating multiple generations in their storylines – from “Doctor Who” to 81 year old Dame Judi Dench (who continues to model of an active and vibrant “granddame”), as Jean Pargetter-Hardcastle in the multi-generational family sitcom “As Time Goes By”. “Downton Abbey” gave us a 4-generation family (albeit cared for by paid staff), and the excellent aging (and maturing) of family members across a decade. Some other favorites portraying the retirement cohort would be “The Last of the Summer Wine” and “The Vicar of Dibley” which include positive, humorous and touching portrayals of people from different generations supporting and encouraging each other (sometimes into trouble). They are people we can relate to and imagine being in relationship with. (They also die – and their friends mourn).
Twenty years ago, the battle cry for assisting the most vulnerable in our communities was “It takes a village to raise a child.” Then, as now, we hear little about how the needs of elders in our society will be addressed beyond the hot button topic of Medicare and Social Security “reform.” There are problems there that will need to be addressed creatively as the Boomers hit those roles. More pressing, and in the grasp of each of us right now is: How do we support the Elder community from the ground up? When is the spotlight going to fall on Elders – not as dottering, cameo appearance comediennes or crazy/scary and unpredictable – but addressing the need for accessible spiritual care and nurture, medical care, socialization, generational sharing and protection from those who would abuse or exploit?
The Art of Parentcare LLC will be offering training in 2016 for individuals, churches and other community groups to develop additional skills in assessing and creatively supporting the spiritual, physical and emotional care of aging adults and their families, and to aid in anticipating and meeting the changes that will come as the wave of Boomers hits the shore of their seventh decade and beyond. Private and group consulting services are also available.