Whatever happened to the empty nest syndrome?
Many of us who are approaching retirement age are still helping our adult children and assisting our aging parents, and our nest is anything but empty.
Heidi Igarashi, a 55-year-old doctoral candidate at Oregon State University's Center for Healthy Aging Research, was the lead author on a paper published in the Journal of Aging Studies reporting on a study examining this phenomenon.
Igarashi understood the issues very well. A couple of years ago, she and her husband sold the family home and bought a small rancher, so they'd have the perfect aging-in-place home for their own retirement. Then their 24-year-old son moved back home to save money for graduate school, and Igarashi's 87-year-old mother, who has mild dementia, moved into another bedroom.
Igarashi said one of her personal experiences that was widely reflected in the study was surprise. She said people didn't expect to be caught in the middle because their previous life experience hadn't prepared them. They had established their own independent lives at much younger ages than their offspring, and their grandparents hadn't lived long enough to require much help in their old age.
"When their children and their parents needed them, they stepped up without fully realizing what this would mean," Igarashi said. "In many cases, the thought had never occurred to them that this might happen."
One significant retirement planning lesson that Igarashi says she has drawn from these situations is the wisdom of building personal and financial autonomy into a late-life blueprint. "If you have mastery over what is happening, you feel better about it. ... We want a connection with our children, but we don't want to have to ask them to take care of us."
She took special inspiration from one person she interviewed for the study who told Igarashi about her personal moment of enlightenment. It came when she realized she was likely to reach a stage of life when she was no longer thinking clearly. In response to that, she sat down with her adult children and discussed how she would like to finish her life and what kind of end-of-life care she would prefer.
She told her children, "I want you to remember what I'm saying now when I'm in my wise mind."
May we all be lucky enough to be able to live out our lives following a plan that we created when we were in our wise minds.