The lives of parents and children are intertwined within the nuclear family. There is a remarkable continuity or even growth of contact between parents and children after the children have left home. So, in contrast to what some might think about our individualistic society, families actually do have a strong connection even when they live apart.
- ‘Eternal Parenthood’ is a new Dutch book on the topic of intergenerational contact and solidarity in the Netherlands, focusing on the baby boomers (born 1945-1955) and their grown-up children. The author argues there is a warm relationship between children in their 30s and 40s and their parents. Children rely on their parents for their wisdom, attention, help and financial support. The book gives many illustrative quotes and examples and its main claims are in line with other, more scientific
- Baby boomers, on average, give more financial support to their children than they received from their parents; at the same time the baby boomers are far richer than both their ancestors and their children. The question, though, is when to stop supporting grown-up children and how to make children financially independent when they started their working life.
- Besides financial support, grandparents also help to take care of the grandchildren. In the Netherlands, for instance, grandparents often take care of their grandchildren on one or more weekdays; in other countries such as Greece, Italy, Portugal and grandparents even take care of grandchildren on a daily base.
You might expect an erosion of family ties in modern, individualistic societies. Since institutions of education and care are relatively well organized in these countries, people don’t necessarily need the help of parents. Nevertheless, with increasing life expectancy, grandparents are able to enjoy close bonds with children and grandchildren for a longer time.
In contrast to what some might think about our individualistic society, families actually do have a strong connection even when they live apart
Moreover, women today not only have children later in life, the number of children per family has also declined. The Dutch book Eternal Parenthood (Eindeloos Ouderschap) suggests that grandparents enjoy the intimate relationships with their grandchildren, which is also possible because of their limited numbers. This takes the form of grandparents taking care of their grandchildren on some week weekdays, but also of financial support, for instance by helping their children to buy a house or going on luxury holidays with children and grandchildren.
However, that support goes both ways. People in Western countries feel great ‘caring responsibilities’ towards their old parents, for example by cooking, cleaning, visiting, or calling. Still financial and residential support by adult children for their old parents is less likely in countries such as the Netherlands, Germany or the U.S. and the U.K. – which contrasts with southern European countries where more than half of the people seem prepared to share homes with grandparents. At the same time elderly care is becoming more expensive with governments bringing down support for care homes, and older people having to pay considerable fees for a place in a care home.
The topic of ageing and caretaking is getting more attention. In any event, the connection and forms of contact between parents and children are becoming more intimate. It seems rather logical that housing, care, insurance, education, and so forth, are rearranged along the lines of the bigger family in which grandparents, parents and grandchildren share experiences, products, and living space.