I have a friend in his late 20s who is very concerned about the effect of the Baby Boomer generations on our society and on our economy. Mainly that the Boomer generation is not doing what it needs to in order to save for their future retirement years and how this behavior will impact the generations that follow, namely his. Basically, he’s worried the Boomers will spend all their wealth and live too long, leaving the younger generation with the burden of caring for the old folks.
My friend is in the generation that is feeling the pressure of shrinking economic power, the one that economists say will be the first not to exceed the quality of life of the previous generation. He may have a point, but I contend that it’s mostly true for those whose definition of quality of life is limited to an unnatural, institutionalized world-view.
He got me thinking about my own family situation and what our future holds. I am of that Boomer generation and due to delayed childbirth, I am still raising children at an age when some women in my generation are already welcoming grandchildren.
Unschooling has led me to question the status quo of so many widely-held notions so I am rethinking the generational paradigm. One difference is that while many of my institutional-schooling friends seem to be counting down the days until their teenagers reach the age of majority and move away, my teenaged sons and I can’t yet imagine being apart.
I have always been a protective mother, but they are not sheltered children. I could not prevent them from experiencing the painful reality of growing up without great loss. Less than a year after their beloved father died suddenly, their favorite cousin, who was a mentor to them, committed suicide. Five months later, another cherished cousin nearly died in a car accident and sustained a severe traumatic brain injury. Together, we’ve been through a lot of changes in the last 18 months.
Even before all of these life-shaking events, our family considered growing into a new structure. We had already begun to reject the traditional parents-at-the top-children- at-the-bottom line of authority. This transformation started the minute we decided to homeschool. As the school-imposed deadlines and activities receded from our family culture, we began to take back our relationships with one another. During our school daze, we argued nearly every night about homework and projects and why-can’t-you-remember-to-bring-your- math-book- home.
When there was no homework to argue about, we noticed that we no longer had parent-child arguments. The power struggles were non-existent. Our relationships blossomed with collegiality. We began to see our family as a community of sharing souls, each bringing needed elements to the sustainable whole, according to each individual’s talent and ability.
When we consider the family as community, we are taking back for ourselves a lifestyle that was removed by industrialization, which, by the way, institutional schools were designed to serve.
Back to my twenty-something friend’s angst about the Boomer-effect. A possible solution to dealing with the issue of scarcity in retirement is the resurrection of the multiple generation household. It seems perfectly suited to help a younger generation that can’t afford to buy their own homes and pay for child care (which costs as much as college tuition but has no financial aid) as well as the older generation that can’t afford retirement. Boomers are house-rich and retirement account poor – but their health is better than previous generations and they are able to provide child care for the younger folks who are able to work outside the home. This is the model of family as community – each person with equal standing, each with valued and unique assets to bring to the household.
The community householder family model has other benefits to the society as a whole: less costly service-delivery, fewer resources used, thriftier land use (instead of building more and more houses), increased family stability, preservation of familial assets, children being reared closer to home with true family values. There are also intangible gifts to this approach – family folkways being passed more easily from one generation to the next, a greater sense of security in vulnerable generations of the very young and very old, children becoming more aware of the human condition as grandparents age in place and die at home, young marriages being supported by older generation’s wisdom, tighter familial bonds.
It really wasn’t until the mid to late 20th century that American families became so generationally fractured. In most countries through out the world, including most industrialized nations, families thrive and live happily in multiple generation households. Our nuclear family isolation is more a result of our American robber-baron industrialization – and it’s not healthy or natural.
The good thing is that the Boomer’s penchant for questioning authority and their own experience getting cattle-herded through institutional government schools, being cheated out of their retirement and health care benefits by the corporate-man employment model, and their resurrection of the entrepreneurial economy have made them very willing to engage in a retrospective, but enlightened, family-based renovation of the social structure. (I am also intending to leave the definition of family open-ended.)
This will bring profound change for the better. We just need to release ourselves from the notions of consumerism that supports the corporate domination of nearly every aspect of our lives. This maybe is easier said than done, but less of a challenge with a family life that is free of artificial institutional structures so often imposed by schools.
Alicia grew up all over the world, including many formative years in Southern California, specifically “The OC” before it became pop culture cool. Now Alicia lives in Virginia, below what she calls “the sweet tea line,” the geographic point at which the wait staff in restaurants begin asking if you prefer your ice tea “sweet or unsweet.” The psychological sweet tea line demarks the state of the Southern mind; full of angst, still defensive and too proud for its own good. This is the place of Alicia’s ancestors, who whisper to her of their triumphant joys and painful sorrows. In between writing for politicians who borrow her words to speak their minds, Alicia writes poetry and prose whenever the spirits or events inspire her.