The empty nest is no more, according to a new study.
Researchers find that middle-aged parents now face a nest that’s full, with children who can’t find a job and aging parents who need more help than ever before.
Researchers at Oregon State University found that many parents’ empty nest plans are often put on hold as the economic recession and tough job market has made it hard on young adults to start their careers and own families. At the same time, many older people are living longer, which puts added pressure on middle-aged children to step in and assist.
All this leads to a mixed bag of emotions, ranging from joy to uncertainty, frustration and exhaustion, the researchers noted.
“We mostly found very positive feelings about adults helping their children in the emerging adulthood stage of life, from around ages 18 to 30,” said Karen Hooker, director of the OSU Center for Healthy Aging Research.
“Feelings about helping parents weren’t so much negative as just filled with more angst and uncertainty,” she said. “As a society, we still don’t socialize people to expect to be taking on a parent-caring role, even though most of us will at some point in our lives. The average middle-aged couple has more parents than children.”
The research, published in the Journal of Aging Studies, was based on data from six focus groups during 2009-10.
The researchers found that most middle-aged parents with young adult children are fairly happy to help them out, and they understand that getting started in life is simply more difficult now. Some research has suggested that age 25 is the new 22; that substantially more parents don’t even expect their kids to be financially independent in their early 20s; and don’t mind helping them through some difficult times.
But the response to helping aging parents who, at the same time, need increasing amounts of assistance is not as uniformly positive, the study found. It can be seen as both a joy and a burden, and was not something most middle-aged adults anticipated, the researchers said.
Many middle-aged people told the researchers it was difficult to make any plans, due to disruptions and uncertainty about a parent’s health. Most said they were willing to help their aging parents, but a sense of being time-starved was a frequent theme, the researchers added.
The dual demands of children and aging parents is causing many of the study participants to re-evaluate their own lives, according to the researchers. Some say they want to make better plans for their future so they don’t pose such a burden to their children, and begin researching long-term care insurance.
“I don’t care if I get old,” one participant said. “I just don’t want to become debilitated. So I would rather have a shorter life and a healthy life than a long life like my mom, where she doesn’t have a life. She doesn’t have memories. Our memories are what make us who we are.”
An increasing awareness of these challenges may cause more people to anticipate their own needs, make more concrete plans for the future, and have more conversations with families about their own late-life care, the researchers concluded.
Source: Oregon State University