I got into a fistfight with the literal “boy next door” when I was 10 years old, which left my eye slightly injured. Although I can’t recall the specifics of the fight, I do recall that I believed he had won fair and square. The following week, everything had been forgotten, and we were once again having fun in someone’s backyard. My parents shrugged when they noticed my wound and were happy that he and I had resolved our issues and were playing together once more.
Gen Xers’ childhoods are frequently described as “feral” when people talk about them. We belonged to the generation of latchkey children who, even as young as 7, would open the door to their own homes after school and prepare their snacks, sometimes on the stove. Say, “It’s 10:00 o’clock. When asked, “Do you know where your children are?” nearly every Gen Xer will smile widely, remembering how this PSA had to be aired on TV every night because many parents hadn’t thought about where we were all evening.
We made due with what was available, finding fun on unhelmeted bikes or crossing busy streets alone to get to the park’s teeter-totter, which offered no assurances that you would exit with the same number of teeth you entered with. We rarely saw or heard from our parents. Dads, as they had for ages, hardly ever spent time with children outside of the required meal and TV time, while moms typically worked outside the home.
Although some fathers may have had boys, they could kick a ball around with, Gen Xers generally relied on one another for companionship and enjoyment. When we were 12 years old, we would babysit, and when we were 15, we would obtain a real job. After a tough day, we would go to our friends for comfort, knowing that our parents couldn’t offer any and would probably only reprimand us for our bad behavior. The majority of the time, we accepted what would be mainly regarded as neglect by modern parenting standards, remarking how fiercely independent and equipped to handle adversity we are now.
Yet now that we are becoming older, those same parents who were so frequently absent or uncaring about us when we were kids are turning to their Gen X offspring for support. Our assistance could take the shape of money or, more frequently, our participation in their lives and affairs. Aging may be a lonely and frightening experience, especially in a nation with limited resources for housing, eldercare, and social security benefits. While the boomer generation—the parents of Generation X—tended to marry frequently, they were also the first to experience divorce frequently. As a result, many elderly parents find themselves alone and dependent entirely on their children for daily care due to divorce or the death of a spouse. There comes the point when physical and potential cognitive ability deteriorates, and they require a reliable person to step in and help manage their lives. This is true even for people who are still partnered.
Many Gen Xers who are asked to care for their aging parents experience conflicted emotions. Resentment might be sparked by the presumption that we would give love, support, and guidance to those who gave our generation very little of these things. What many Gen X children went through could be described as Emotional Deprivation in the language of schema therapy, which indicates that the typical emotional requirements of a kid go mostly unsatisfied.
Three types of emotional deprivation fall under this category, and Gen X folks may be familiar with some or all of them.
- Neglect of nurturance: lack of warmth, care, and attention
- A dearth of empathy: showed little understanding and empathy
- Absence of protection: provided inadequate security and direction
They are still our parents, who we typically love and feel responsible for despite some terrible parenting.
Gen X women often experience these emotions more intensely because we are frequently the primary caregivers for our children. We might not be happy about accepting these responsibilities, it is difficult to say no. Even though our parents may have been less visible during our formative years, their absolute dominance was recognized.
Years have passed since the idea of “soft parenting,” or even respect between parent and child existed.
Boomer parents established the rules, upheld them (sometimes forcefully), and quickly overruled any Gen X children’s concerns. We left the house as soon as we were able legally because of this dynamic and our self-sufficiency, firmly establishing psychological and physical distancing. This distance did not immediately challenge the king/peasant dynamic of our childhoods, but it might do so if boomer parents decide to re-enter their children’s lives in a more personal way.
In schema therapy, we understand that our responses to early programming (schemas) manifest as “modes,” or typical ways we act when we are prompted. Adult children who have “my way or the highway” parents and who have the emotional deprivation schema may fall into the “Compliant Surrender” pattern, where we would comply with our parents’ requests out of habit and avoid conflict. From here, it is difficult to recognize our own needs, much less express them in a healthy, constrained manner.
These are some things to consider when we take on caring for our boomer parents.
1. Establish clear boundaries – Because many parents are accustomed to making decisions for their (now adult) children, it’s critical that you understand what is acceptable and what is not. You might need to be very clear with your parents about the part you’ll be playing and what you won’t be doing. This could be as significant as rejecting the thought of them relocating in with your family or as modest as requesting that they respect your child’s choice of pronouns when they are visiting. As an adult, you have every right to establish rules for your own life and household.
2. Clearly define your needs
Caregiving is a demanding, unpaid job. It holds true whether parents are watching over small children or adult children are taking care of elderly parents. It requires a lot of time, can be emotionally taxing, and can be expensive. You’ll likely need some alone time to recover and refuel. If your parents are able to assist, you might need to ask for a financial contribution from them. You are accomplishing a lot, so it is reasonable to ask that they take your needs into account as well. Do not be afraid to let them know what you need from them.
3. Enlist the help of other family members
Caring is still viewed as a woman’s responsibility because of the preparation and execution required. That implies that other people frequently won’t even consider helping. Ask for help if you have other siblings who can provide it, either financially or in other ways. Give some of the duty to your partner or older children if you have either of them. Certainly, you might need to justify your actions (which appears ludicrous), but do not absolve others of responsibility by completing all the job in silence (and with obedience). While it is hoped that they will assist, do not expect that they will do so without being asked.
4. Consult a professional if the workload gets overwhelming
Taking care of your parents will likely cause you to confront emotional disappointments and even traumas that you may have been able to overlook for years. Also, if your relationship with your parents and your own family has not been the best, it may cause tension in your own relationship. You can better understand why you are feeling the way you are and how to best move forward by speaking with a licensed professional who can assist you in sorting through some of the intense emotions that surface.