The Family Dynamics in the Middle Age

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Increase in life expectancy and the subsequent development in the population of older adults, relationships among the family members in the latter part of their years is receiving attention more than ever before. Research professionals and educators interested in the dynamics of later life family relationships have conceived new terminologies, for instance ‘aging families’, later life marriage, ‘Sandwich Generation’ and ‘skip generation grand parents’.

As a matter of fact, a rising sub-field within the sphere of Family Science, known as Family Gerontology propounded by Blieszner & Bedford, 1997 is becoming more and more understood. This area of specialization remains particularly related to investigating and analyzing family relationships among older adults. Several of the role and relationships which relate to aging families are inclusive of grandparents and that of their grandchildren, parents who are aging and their adult children, marriages in later life, divorce and remarriage among the old age population, and children in later life. (Aging Family Relationship)

The Dynamics of Middle Age:

Living preparations constitute an important aspect of quality of life and health in old age. Availability of family care as also social and financial support contributes in part with whom one lives. To forecast future variations in the composition of households, especially with regard to planning and targeting specific community care services, information is required on the probability of a person experiencing an alteration in their living arrangements, and the life course episodes which might function as triggers. Various studies point that in among individuals who are of the age of 60 and more, majority of the changes in living arrangements are either because of the mourning or moving into an institution. (The Dynamics of Living Arrangements)

Even this is in keeping with the general principles regarding the living arrangements constituted of this age group, maybe it is not so apparent that the bulk of other changes should be related to the migration of younger generations. Factors connected with a move to an institution comprises those we would expect to be linked with a requirement for care such as age and health as also the availability of resources of informal care such as household composition and the potential to be able to buy care.

Poor health, which inhibits daily activities and staying alone each, multiply the chances of entering an institution by a factor of nearly five. Still more, being aged 80 and higher raises the chances by a factor of three. (The Dynamics of Living Arrangements)

According to a study by the Centre for Policy Research, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University, it uses a data set of elder children and their elderly parents to investigate care giving relationships. Applying the 1993 Panel Study of Income Dynamics and 1993 Health Care Burden file, the assistance extended by children to their parents was examined. The study distinguished between daughters who are household heads and daughter who are wives.

The findings revealed that parents got more care from daughters compared to sons. The care giving contributions of daughters who are head of the households vary considerably from that of wives. The analysis of care giving, employment, and housework reveals that children who are caregivers spend more combined hours to these activities compared to children who do not provide care. (Laditka; Laditka, 2000)

The Sandwich Generation – the crux of the issue:

A family might be having a teenaged son, a daughter who attends college, a daughter having a year old child who is divorced recently, and old aged mother requiring an enhanced level of care-giving, with everybody living within the same household. They are the typical members of the sandwich generation.

The 1990s were marked by people having longer lifespan, postponing marriage or marrying late with more children living at home to attend colleges and more and more adult children are returning home following a divorce or job loss. This results in greater number of mid-life couples feeling to have been sandwiched between the demands of their old aged parents and that of their own children. These couples and people within the age bracket of 45 and 65 who thought their children would grow up, take up job elsewhere, and lead lives independently as self-supporting adults. (The Sandwich Generation: A Cluttered Nest)

People lay various expectations for the middle years. They also expect that their aging parents would remain independent, be self-supporting and healthy as they progress into their latter years. At the time of failing health of their parents, those in their middle years believed suitable care centers would be available where their parents could get the required services and where their children could visit. These expenses could be met from retirement benefits together with Medicaid and Medicare.

Concurrently, these mid-aged adults thought they could enjoy travel and indulge in some special things in life which they had been shelving all along for the sake of their children who were growing up then. But they find situations are defying their expectations. Increasing levels of challenges are cropping up at work.

Those at mid-life are witnessing their careers peaking. They are torn apart by the demand of teen and adult children on one hand and by the frail parents on the other. Expectations that did not see the light of the day can convert into disappointments, bitter feelings, tension and increased mental pressure. Several mid-age people, anticipating being free from their nest, carved out plans for their pre-retirement and retirement years.

The doubt regarding remaining in the dark for their opportunity to carry forward some of these dreams, coupled with what duty they are supposed to do their parents as well as children are factors of immense mental pressure. Such mental pressure can mount and irritate their true devotion to provide succor to the family members at the time of crisis or urgency. (The Sandwich Generation: A Cluttered Nest)

Individuals belonging to the sandwich generation are also apprehensive of the loss of their own independence and their commitment towards their own children vis-à-vis their parents. They are tensed about their family’s financial and physical sources, covering themselves too narrowly across several roles and their own coping ability against the complex circumstances which set to challenge them. The prevailing need of each generation is to have a feeling of control and an idea of purpose regarding their life. People who get a feeling of control of life normally experience increased forms of life satisfaction. A perception of control occurs, impacting the manner in which people progress in life, approach an impending crisis, and arrive at decisions.

In case there is an internal sense of control, an increased feeling of power is present over one’s environment and decisions. In case control appears to be external, there is a feeling or scanty or no control on the happenings, and lack of keenness might be there to arrive at decisions. People who have increased sense of control externally have increased tendency to experience greater psychological suffering and illness.

The middle years have been exemplified as re-year. In this stage of life, the term –‘re’ which is a prefix implying “‘to do again’, to go back’, to reassess, reevaluate, rekindle, relearn, review, reappraise, restructure”. (The Sandwich Generation: A Cluttered Nest) To accomplish this, people must carry on the developmental responsibilities of mid-life. These tasks are skills, knowledge and attitudes required at varied points in their lives. (The Sandwich Generation: A Cluttered Nest)

Family Impact:

There is limited available research on the impact of multi-generational care giving on family relations and functioning of family is limited in range. Loomis and Booth in 1995 delved at a national sample of middle-aged married people to record the impact of multiple care giving duties on individual caregivers. The authors revealed that multigenerational care giving had scanty or no impact on the dependent variables of psychological health, contentment with leisure time, financial sources, or quality of marital life.

It was Ward and Spitze who in 1998 evaluated the frequency of multigenerational care giving and the influence of these responsibilities on apparent marital quality. On the other hand, a handful of researchers have also investigated the impact of multigenerational care giving on the health of the youngest generation. (The Sandwich Generation)

Tebes and Irish in 2000 assessed the influence of support interventions meant for multigenerational mothers who are care providers on the behavior of their children. The findings reveal that children of intervention participants showed lower depressions and heightened social competence. Hamill in 1994 assessed parent-adolescent communication among the middle generation of care providers and observed that tension between care giving mothers and elderly parents was linked with poor communication held with adolescent children.

To sum up, it has been observed that even though researchers disagree regarding the incidence of the Sandwich generation, the demographic trends of delayed parenting and increased life span are indisputable. To precisely calculate the frequency of multigenerational care giving and evaluate the impact of this care giving approach on the family system, what is required is a universal definition of the constitution of ‘sandwich generation’. Further, additional representative sample are required. (The Sandwich Generation)

Bibliography :
“Aging Family Relationship” Aging Families. Series Bulletin 1. The Ohio State University
Extension. Retrieved from
http://www.hec.ohio-state.edu/famlife/aging/PDFs/Siblings%20Bulletin.final.pdf Accessed 29 November, 2005
Laditka J. N; Laditka, S. B. (2000) “Aging children and their older parents: The coming
generation of caregiving” Journal of Women Aging. Vol: 12; No: 1-2; pp: 189-204
Lingren, Herbert G Decker, Jeyne. “The Sandwich Generation: A Cluttered Nest”. Retrieved

from http://ianrpubs.unl.edu/family/g1117.htm Accessed 30 November, 2005
“The Dynamics of Living arrangements”. Retrieved from
http://www.lse.ac.uk/collections/SAGE/research/dynamicsInLaterLife/livingArrangements.htm Accessed 29 November, 2005
“The Sandwich Generation”. Aging Families. Series Bulletin No.2. Retrieved from
http://www.hec.ohio-state.edu/famlife/aging/PDFs/Sandwich%20Generation.final.pdf Accessed 30 November, 2005

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