March 4, 2015

Are Boomers as grandparental as their own parents were in that role?

A recurring theme in the rise of the Me Generation is their benefiting from an established set of rules, and then altering them -- even reversing them -- once they could no longer benefit, and would be expected to play the role of the benefactor.

The series of posts I wrote on incumbency highlight this pattern the best. Boomers went all "don't trust anyone over 30" when they were upstarts, insisting that their superiors be cast aside to make way for new blood. After all, those old fogies didn't have a fancy ass degree like an MBA like we do.

The older Greatest Generation largely went along with the coup, seeing it as in poor taste yet still necessary to keep social mobility going for the next generation.

Of course, once the Boomers became the Establishment, their credo switched to "beware everyone under 30," and if the upstarts have fancy little MBA's, well, big whoop, so do us Boomer incumbents. If they have more education than us, that's just pointless over-qualification. If they want good jobs, they should only have the level of education that we had, but back when we had it, not now, because we are already as educated as we are.

They've been all "boo taxes!" since their 20s, yet now that they're set to start collecting Social Security retirement checks (without retiring), "we" are going to have to tax-and-spending to meet our promise to our nation's senior citizens (or aging Americans, or whatever the Boomer euphemism for it is).

I wonder how this dynamic is playing out in the kinship realm. Boomers received loads of help from their parents when they had kids. Greatest Gen grandparents like mine consisted of a grandmother who was a homemaker, and perhaps had been so for decades and decades, and a grandfather who was a man-of-the-house. The grandmother donated endless time minding the grandchildren, freeing the Boomer mother to do whatever else, and the grandfather donated time and effort instructing and passing along know-how.

Some summers as children, my brothers and I would spend entire weeks at my grandparents' home in the middle of nowhere, nearest city Wheeling, West Virginia. Our grandmother watched over us, cooked us meals, made us take baths, and all the other maternal duties of a typical day. My grandfather would teach us how to hold someone in a full nelson, chop firewood, find your way around the woodland trails, shoot a .22, steer a tractor, and all the rest of the things you need to teach a growing boy how to do.

I don't think my parents spent the whole time in frivolous vacation mode. They just had more time to take a breather, and to finally get to all those millions of little things that need to be done around the house, at their jobs, and planning for the near future, that are hard to do while also trying to tame three wild kids.

Are the Boomers now taking on the burden of grandparenting their children's children in the same way? It doesn't look like it. No data to check from the General Social Survey, unfortunately, this is personal observation. You just don't see your Gen X friends posting pictures of dropping off their kids at Camp Grandma for weeks on end during the summer, or pictures of their excitement when they get to return home with mom and dad. No status updates to that effect.

They post all sorts of kid pictures on Facebook, so if they don't include lots of ones with children and grandparents, it's because they aren't really there. The only exception is if the Gen X-er or Millennial is living with their Boomer parent.

Now, some of the distance between today's grandkids and grandparents could be deliberate on the part of the Gen X parents, most of whom either have trust "issues" with their parents, or at least recall the lack of supervision of their own childhoods, and don't want grandma to behave that way again around her grandkids.

Still, it seems like most of the distance is from a lack of will from the Boomer grandparents. Parents today, as cocooning and paranoid as they are about other people being around their kids, are still stretched too thin for time, and would enjoy a break of sanity during the summer. And grandparents don't need to be researched, checked-out, and paid.

My sense is that Boomer grandparents play more of an absentee role, not spending as much time and effort nurturing them and teaching them know-how. My grandmother never ordered a pizza or went out for fast food when it came time to feed us. We got home fries straight from a cast iron pan that must have been a pain to clean afterward. With the Me Generation being so single-mindedly focused on their careers, they have little time and energy left to spend on caring for grandkids.

Boomers were happy to ask for and receive grandparental help, but are loathe to give it now that it's their turn. It's another case of re-writing the rules to benefit them in whatever life stage they're currently in. Being tight-fisted is one thing, but when you yourself benefited so much from asking for generosity when you were an upstart, it makes the hypocrisy unbearable.

Not that it's the most serious consequence, but it's also serving to widen inequality. When the established sacrifice in order to free up the status-insecure to work and earn more money, the extremes move more toward the middle. When the established are reluctant, the gap remains wide. Boomers have enjoyed a double boost to their status -- they got lots of free help when they were young, and they aren't doling much out when they're old.

20 comments:

  1. Hat and Belt3/4/15, 9:08 AM

    Are Boomers generally healthier or less healthy than their parents were at the same age? On the one hand, medicine has come a long way, so in theory they should be healthier and more active. On the other hand, Boomers generally haven't had to put up with as much physical suffering and pain as their Greatest Generation parents, so perhaps illnesses knock them out more easily. I'm reminded of someone's outdoor family photo I saw recently, from the late '80s- the Boomers and their young children pose in the foreground, smiling, while in the background (unbeknownst to everyone else), grandpa, the grizzled WWII veteran, has climbed out of his wheelchair and is strenuously trying to ascend the front steps unassisted (probably just going for another pack of smokes). Boomers often often don't react well to aging, so perhaps they're quicker to decide that a health issue renders them incapable of caring for children.


    Boomer grandparent who took a college deferment in Vietnam and worked a desk job for 40 years: "Oh, sorry- I'd love to take the grandkids, but my doctor put me on special heart meds this week, and they just suck all the energy out of me. Maybe after they run the tests next month".

    Greatest Generation grandparent who caught shrapnel and frostbite with the 5th Marine Regiment in Korea and worked in a cutlery factory: "Send the kids over for the weekend, I'd love to see them! No, it's already been 24 hours since heart surgery, I'm completely fine now."

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  2. "benefiting from an established set of rules, and then altering them -- even reversing them -- once they could no longer benefit, and would be expected to play the role of the benefactor."

    I wonder how much of is this is adapting to rising inequality, vs. just a permanent trait of the Boomers.

    "Boomers often often don't react well to aging, so perhaps they're quicker to decide that a health issue renders them incapable of caring for children."

    Not so sure, the Boomers came of age during the rising crime wave so they are probably healthier in general, though I have noticed that the Silent Generation is also very physically tough

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  3. Are the Boomers now taking on the burden of grandparenting their children's children in the same way? It doesn't look like it. No data to check from the General Social Survey, unfortunately,

    I don't know how interested you are in the question, but it is probably answerable. For years since 2003, there is the American Time Use Survey. If you look in the FAQ to that survey, there are predecessor time use surveys going back to 1965. So, if you wanted to do a bunch of work, you could probably figure out the answer. Also, it's possible some sociologist or demographer has already done it. I don't know.

    There might be interesting racial differences. As the black family has almost completely disintegrated, children being raised by grandparents has probably increased over time. Maybe the same is true for Hispanics as well. So, in some populations, maybe grand-parental involvement has been increasing.

    The only exception is if the Gen X-er or Millennial is living with their Boomer parent.

    That's a pretty important exception. Maybe boomer grand-parents are, on average, as involved, but the involvement is more concentrated among those with unsuccessful children. I know some boomer parents like this. It's kind of frightening, actually. They don't seem all that different from my wife and I, so I wonder if my kids are going to be utterly useless wastrel bastard factories.

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  4. The Vermifuge3/4/15, 2:49 PM

    Status-striving, too, with its distances and impersonal tête-à-têtes, affects the relationships. When there are state-lines separating the grandchildren and grandparents, the trip requires more planning. Of course, it’s not impossible—or, at least, it wasn’t—to put a kid on an airplane to go away for the week, but it requires societal trust and letting go. Also, though, divorce has created a weird familial atmosphere, especially if the grandparents are dating or remarried (in other words: acting like teenagers), that the parents may not care to shove their kids into; even if it’s a well-adjusted dysfunction, the personality in the house won’t resemble the one of growing up.

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  5. "the Boomers came of age during the rising crime wave so they are probably healthier in general, though I have noticed that the Silent Generation is also very physically tough"

    Eh, the Boomers did a lot of wild (e.g. dumb) stuff like drugs, booze, partying, road raging, fighting, sleeping around etc. There's gonna be a price to pay for this.

    The Greatest Gen had their bodies tested and strengthened via honest labor (inc. the service) and were too young to really experience the roaring 20's while being too old to partake in the post 60's wildness. So they probably are very healthy.

    The Silents are probably a little more worse off given that they didn't quite face the same labor/military rigors while the later period Silents (the ones born in the later 30's/early 40's) did get hit a bit hard by the 60's freakout. Keep in mind that a person's main formative years are 14-24.

    Meanwhile, The Boomers got the comfort of several things which probably made them a bit soft:

    - Newfangled suburbs neatly segregated from the sweat and grime of the farm and the industrial city; early Silents and Greatest Gen. had to grit it out before the post WW2 boom.

    - A shift away from native born whites working on farms and factories; The Boomers were the 1st American generation who looked on "traditional" jobs with contempt hence the mad dash to the colleges. We deserve better, right?

    - Previous generations and early Boomers creating and justifying numerous ways to dodge the service

    It didn't help either that the Boomers were the first generation in quite some time to have their formative years occuring mostly or entirely in a period of growing wildness which inflicted a lot of damage that never quite qot repaired.

    The main things that may have benefited the Boomers were brawling and fairly good nutrition in their pre college years.

    As for Generation X, they didn't have the same opportunities for honest aka physical labor (the info. economy here we come) and it was much tougher for them to climb the ladder. The former didn't build character but the latter did. They also had lousy nutrition (the dawn of the microwave) but at least they were more street smart/cautious so they didn't indulge recklessly like the Boomers.

    Being in a dangerous climate probably does toughen you up so the Greatest Gen, the Boomers, and Gen X-ers would've benefited. Silents and Millenials didn't get mugged though.

    Overall, it seems like there's so many factors at work here (many of them beyond a generation's control) that it's very debatable as to which generation is the toughest. I definitely agree that the Greatest Gen is superior to the Boomers.

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  6. High crime/low inequality periods probably produce the best people while low crime/ high inequality periods produce soft, lazy, selfish, and boring people.

    Low inequality = high trust, honest work, good nutrition. People are motivated.
    High inequality = treachery lurking around every corner, pawning off gritty labor, the masses eating crap, hedonistic and confused people.

    Crime is a harder nut to crack since growing up in the early phase of high crime can be very harsh on naive people. Again, look at how hard hit the Boomers were by the 60's/70's while Gen X-ers grew up in the middle of the chaos and shook their heads at the Boomers.

    I suppose though that what the Boomers went through is still better for one's development than avoiding high crime altogether like the Silents and Millenials did. That tends to make people a mousy drag. The Millenials really did get the shaft; nobody's any fun, work sucks, scumbag CEOS, politicians, generals, and lawyers pissing all over the commons etc.

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  7. Status-striving, too, with its distances and impersonal tête-à-têtes, affects the relationships. When there are state-lines separating the grandchildren and grandparents, the trip requires more planning. Of course, it’s not impossible—or, at least, it wasn’t—to put a kid on an airplane to go away for the week, but it requires societal trust and letting go. Also, though, divorce has created a weird familial atmosphere,

    A lot of insight here, The Boomers who fondly remember the convivial and wholesome atmosphere of the 50's-70's don't seem to know (or care) that the social chaos they minted has robbed X-ers and Millenials of the same pleasures Boomers counted on.

    The 80's weren't too bad, but that was when things began to come unglued as that was the decade that striving stepped on the gas. I've got an 80's Horror movie book called Horror films of the 80's which notes that increasing social instability became a theme in 80's movies.

    With so many people frequently changing jobs, neighborhoods, spouses etc. the once tightly knit fabric of American communities was getting shredded.

    Maybe that guy who moved in next door last month is a Satanist, that guy's new fiancee is a golddigging slut, etc.

    Before American Psycho made a gory farce out of yuppieness, there was a 1983 flick called 10 to Midnight in which the slasher killer was an ambitious and attractive professional. Charles Bronson was the hero out to stop him because, of course, the system let him go.

    Let's not forget either that we tend to be suspicious of rootless people to begin with as Agnostic has been talking about lately.

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  8. My Greatest Gen grandparents lived and died with my family growing up in the 70s and 80s. Every bit of wisdom I learned was imparted to me from my Mississippian grandmother.

    With such positive memories, I naturally invited my own Boomer parents to move in with us now that they're old. Biggest mistake of my life! They act like they own my house. They do nothing but watch TV all day (in an average day more than I do in a year). They cause discord with their daughter-in-law, my wife. My father spends more time tending his Keurig coffee maker than he has with his grandson. My mother moans to no end when she's left at home an hour or two with the kids, 10 and 11, although they need nothing from her as they keep to themselves upstairs and my daughter is a Red Cross certified baby sitter.

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  9. I've read stories similar to that in parenting websites. Gen X-ers are much more reluctant to allow their Boomer or late Silent Gen parents into their home for very long, because they tend to assume an attitude of control, even though they're guests.

    My Greatest Gen grandparents moved in with my mother's sister and her husband when they were no long able to live by themselves, and they behaved more like (long-term) guests.

    Boomers have always been power-hungry ("ambitious"), and refuse to let go in the economy and government. Apparently they hold that stance in the domestic domain as well.

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  10. "Eh, the Boomers did a lot of wild (e.g. dumb) stuff like drugs, booze, partying, road raging, fighting, sleeping around etc. There's gonna be a price to pay for this."

    A few years ago the CDC launched a massive public education campaign aimed at Boomers, telling them all to get tested for hepatitis C. The medical world was struck by how the age distribution for hep C patients kept getting older, meaning that it was a generational thing, and how widespread it was among the Boomers. Unprotected promiscuity, casual drug use, etc., back when they were 20.

    That's just the tip of the iceberg of conditions that will drain taxpayer dollars from Gen X as the Boomers dial down their working hours and ease into retirement. Boomers just won't accept responsibility for anything, and will threaten collective action if someone else doesn't clean up after their mess.

    Pretty soon that will be an empty threat, though, and it'll be interesting to see how much mercy the X-ers and Millennials show them.

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  11. "As for Generation X... They also had lousy nutrition (the dawn of the microwave)"

    I spent awhile browsing through the cookbook section at the thrift store last night and was depressed by the ones from the '80s. You want to believe that everything about the period was cool and wholesome, but food & nutrition was definitely already in marked decline.

    Lo-cal, lo-fat, Weight Watchers, dieting, volumes dedicated only to pasta, the art of microwave cooking, etc. Basic all-purpose cookbooks were skimpy on animal foods, and heavy on grains, starch, and faux feel-good vegetables (rice and beans). Even the Southern Living annuals were so devoid of animal foods, it was more like the Southern (TM) take on Californian quasi-vegetarian cuisine. Sad.

    Luckily they had lots of general and specific books from the '60s and '70s, before the anti-fat carboholic trend since the '80s. "Cooking with Cheese," "Cooking with Eggs and Cheese" -- now we're talkin'!

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  12. I'm thinking that overproduction of elites contributes to all the specialized cookbooks. People pen off a book to impress their friends, when all you need a few good general and cookbooks.

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  13. "That's just the tip of the iceberg of conditions that will drain taxpayer dollars from Gen X as the Boomers dial down their working hours and ease into retirement. Boomers just won't accept responsibility for anything, and will threaten collective action if someone else doesn't clean up after their mess."

    Gen X and Millennial types have been shouldering Boomer BS for decades now. So far they've been remarkably gracious even as they've been abused by the damn selfish ingrates.

    Like you've said, we're due for an uprising by disgruntled kids that will herald the beginning of another wild era. This time 'round, the brats have way more valid reasons to revolt than the silver spoon Boomers ever did.


    "Pretty soon that will be an empty threat, though, and it'll be interesting to see how much mercy the X-ers and Millennials show them."

    In addition to Boomers engendering blowback, later Gen X and Millennials are much more racially/nationally diverse to boot giving them one more (and one powerful) reason to resent Boomers. Boomers of course are predominately whites of NW Euro descent with some Italians and Poles.

    Previous Boomer-like generations couldn't Teflon themselves to the helm simply because of nature imposed limits. It just so happens we've got all of these life prolonging advances coinciding with Boomers going beyond middle age.

    With the Boomers (and their hidden point men, the Silents) being both the most stubbornly dangerous generation in ages as well as being the 1st gen. to live beyond natural limits, I'd say that the changing of the guard might make the 60's look uneventful.

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  14. "I spent awhile browsing through the cookbook section at the thrift store last night and was depressed by the ones from the '80s. You want to believe that everything about the period was cool and wholesome, but food & nutrition was definitely already in marked decline."

    The 80's being a peak of outgoingness masked the deepening and nasty effects of growing inequality. It's fitting I guess that physical decay happens along with moral/social decay.

    When everybody ate the basic hearty staples, there was nothing to prove. People just did the average thing and didn't sweat about getting trendy (aka competitive). That "conformity" was awful, wasn't it? Intact families, 1 car (maybe 2 once a son got older), modest homes, decent pay for decent work, men who were stoic, women who were useful, both sexes being unpretentious. Let's not forget made in America goods that worked.

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  15. I am a Millennial at the oldest end of the generation. Boomers are the worst grandparents the world has ever seen.

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  16. I was about to make a snarky comment about how Boomers would need to be paid to mind their own grandchildren. Then I realized, if it's plausible as a joke, it's probably happening in reality. Sadly...

    http://www.grandparents.com/family-and-relationships/caring-for-children/pay-grandparents-for-babysitting

    http://www.circleofmoms.com/toddlers/grandmother-charging-to-babysitt-grandchild-665599

    Make sure to read the comments.

    The X-er / Millennial parents are split between being somewhat sympathetic to the unpaid grandparents, and viewing grandparent duties as unpaid by nature.

    Boomers, though, are 100% on the side of PAY UP OR TAKE YOUR LITTLE SNOTNOSE BACK.

    Plus a bunch of Talmudic shit about "I'm only asking 50% the going market rate for daycare services." "I could be spending that time earning money, too, y'know." "You and your husband get to enjoy a luxury dinner at Ruby Tuesday's once a week, but you don't have enough dough to pay your family to babysit? I see where your priorities are, Mrs. Fancypants."

    They rationalize the contractual / financial relationship by arguing that they (Boomers) didn't rely on regular free childcare from family members, and blew hundreds of dollars a month on daycare. If the Boomers didn't mind outsourcing the care of their own children so they could pursue their career, then the Boomers' children shouldn't mind paying to send their kids to a baby farm either.

    If the Boomers' children aren't willing to go the route that the Boomers themselves did, then pay up. The Boomers don't stop to think, what if they *had* asked their parents to watch the kids rather than pay a daycare center -- would they (the Greatest Gen) have wanted to hammer out a financial agreement? Of course not.

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  17. One year when they were toddlers, both of my younger twin brothers spent the better part, or maybe the entire summer at my grandparents' home. As in, my parents were nowhere nearby, and the grandparents had full responsibility over these two toddlers.

    I don't remember why -- my parents were house-hunting, or job-hunting, or both. That, plus two toddlers (I was older and mellower) was going to be too much. My grandparents didn't think twice about it, and didn't ask whether you'll be paying by cash or credit.

    In fact, they recorded messages every so often to share what had been going on -- on one of those old reel-to-reel tape machines, no less -- and neither grandparent sounded stressed out, over-burdened, taken for granted, bitter, etc. Taking care of kids, even full-time for a whole summer, was seen as a normal part of being retired, and well into the menopause years for my grandmother. If they did perceive it as highly unusual and undesirable, they certainly didn't let it show.

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  18. I think X-er and Millennial parents have to absorb how workaholic the Boomers are, how everything in their lives must serve the higher purpose of climbing the career ladder, or if they're getting on in years, at least sliding down the fewest rungs possible. Rather than retire, bow out, vacate a job and give it to the "younger" generation (who may be 40 years old). That would be so humiliating, it might as well be suicide.

    When you ask them to fulfill a duty to their family, it had better not interfere with maintaining their career and standard of living. Hence their mass decision to drop off their little parasites at daycare centers rather than stay at home. No little parasite is gonna come between me and MY CAREER.

    Old habits die hard. You can't expect people who normalized daycare for their children to treat their grandchildren in any more motherly of a way.

    The other thing that today's parents need to really absorb about Boomers is their refusal to age behaviorally. The early wave now resemble decrepit skeletons, but in their minds, they could be out running marathons and ballroom dancing and living life to the fullest. So when you ask them to spend that time minding their grandkid, it's like, a major bummer, man.

    "Why do you get to go out and enjoy a jog through the park, or a night out dancing, when you expect me to give that up in order to mind the grandkids?" Because the parent is in their 30s and still able-bodied, whereas you are menopausal, arthritic, etc. Whose three hours would be better spent jogging and dancing, vs. minding children?

    I hate to sound so blunt, but Boomers need a rude awakening about how their refusal to act their age is not just inappropriate and weird, but shirking the duties of the life stage they're currently in (not the one from 40 years ago).

    They are trying to undo the separation between age groups or life stages, and make it seem like they're still just as young as the X-er / Millennial parents are. That's where they get the idea that there's a zero-sum competition between the parents and grandparents -- whose life-to-the-fullest afternoon shall be sacrificed to watch the kids?

    But there shouldn't be a competition because the Boomers are old. They're supposed to be retiring, winding down, returning to family duties rather than personal career pursuits.

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  19. There's a popular theory in evolutionary anthropology, the "grandmother hypothesis," that says homo sapiens evolved long lives and menopause so that grandmothers could help out their children, either directly supporting their offspring, or indirectly helping them by taking care of the grandkids (minding them, or gathering food for them to eat). But in some way, the grandmother taking off a lot of the burden on the mother, freeing her up to have more kids or the same number but with higher-quality upbringing.

    There has to be some Darwinian benefit to the grandmother becoming totally infertile around age 40-50. That's hardly a standard feature of life stages around the animal kingdom. Not even in the primates. Menopause subtracts from her personal reproductive fitness, but it could be compensated for, and then some, through inclusive fitness -- boosting the fitness of those related to her.

    Boomers are doing all they can to counter-act Mother Nature's plan for grandmothers.

    Sadly, I wish that were only a figure of speech. Hormone "replacement" "therapy" has been huge for well over a decade or two, with late Silent and especially Boomer women refusing to go through menopause as they get old. Or old men hooking up Viagra IV drips so they can try to chase tail rather than act like dutiful grandfathers.

    If today's grandmothers don't seem to behave as grandmotherly as earlier generations did, there may be a strong hormonal force at work. She may not have a menopausal hormone profile like her own mother did back in the day as a grandmother.

    Hormone "replacement" "therapy" turns out to be harmful over the long-term for most areas of health. But that doesn't matter -- Boomer seniors aren't doing it to maintain strong bones or whatever BS rationalization. It's entirely to FEEL YOUNG and full of youthful hormones, no matter if it fucks up your health when those young hormones are raging inside of a frail half-corpse.

    Anyway, this is all to say that if you ask the Boomer grandmother to take care of the grandkids, she'll take that as a hit to her awesome youthful life she could otherwise be living up. She'll act like the 16 year-old sister who's asked to babysit her baby brother rather than go to a school dance on Saturday night. Bummer, man! Except she's 60, not 16.

    Settling into a grandmotherly lifestyle would imply giving up the youthful orientation, and for Boomers, there's only youth and death. You might as well ask them to kill themselves.

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  20. I'm with you 100% on this topic. I love my Boomer parents, but man they are frustrating grandparents to my kids. We got exactly zero care-taking help from them when my kids were little, and cajoled them into watching the kids overnight a couple times a year so my wife and I could take a break. They're pretty good around holidays, and now that the kids are older, they take the 2 younger kids for a week in the summer. But they've never been there on a semi-regular basis, my dad doesn't have any handy skills to teach them (he didn't teach me any either, so at least he's consistent there), and now that they're reaching retirement, they've holed up in a small mountain town close to some of their friends and 3 hours drive from their grandkids.

    I was on a Boy Scout trip this weekend with my 2 younger sons' troop, and we drove by Lake Wildwood, which is a retirement community set around a man-made lake. It's gated (of course) and isolated, and I saw people in their 60s and 70s playing tennis. Nothing wrong with that at first glance, but a thought struck me. The Boomers were the first generation to start sticking their elders in retirement homes en masse, and they're the first generation to willingly isolate themselves from the greater community now that they're reaching elder status. How selfish can you get?

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