Our parents still have something to teach us


By Sondra L. Shapiro

After I delivered a eulogy for my husband’s 93-year-old grandmother, a woman I greatly admired, the rabbi approached me to say he found it refreshing that a person my age would choose an older person as a role model. That was 19 years ago, and I was 42.

Though I quickly responded that most of my heroes are older people, I later realized the accuracy of the rabbi’s observation.

sshapiro_headshotIn our culture we frequently underestimate the contributions and worth of elders. If we did a little soul searching, we baby boomers would realize there is so much we have learned from them.

We may not always act the way our parents did, but lots of their admirable qualities are ingrained in us. This is evident in the way many of us raised our children while taking care of ailing parents, or in the love and care we provide to a spouse or friend in need of care. It is apparent in the way many of us share a special bond with a grandchild.

The sense of duty and love is a value that is handed down from our parents who were influenced by the Depression. That older generation learned to cherish the closeness of family, friends and community over material gains. They were largely spared from the influence of Madison Avenue hype, a condition that has greatly swayed my generation.

Baby boomers were exposed to and shaped by many positive influences. Unlike our parents, who often spent their childhood working to help support the family, we were raised during a period of prosperity.

As products of the “Pepsi Generation,” we think and act younger than our parents did at our age. That belief has helped to slow down many of the traditional signs of aging.

We don’t buy into the traditional concept that with old age comes infirmity. We are a generation that believes in unlimited possibilities. Many of us are starting new careers in our 50s and 60s.

While our parents were more frugal and discerning, we tend to be spendthrifts in a quest to attain bigger and better things. That behavior made us ill equipped to handle the lean years of the last recession. It puts us at a disadvantage in terms of having sufficient resources in old age.

So, there is still more we can learn from our elders.

Our parents enjoyed a paternal form of government that created Social Security and the Great Society programs that provide a financial lifeline for older Americans. As voters and advocates they exhibited the influence of that environment by unselfishly working to preserve entitlements like Social Security and Medicare for their children and grandchildren.

Baby boomers are shaped by a political climate that espouses a philosophy that less government is better. While the promotion of self-sufficiency is admirable, government programs should be preserved since they provide a financial safety net. Take a look at the behavior of our elders. If it weren’t for them we would not have the entitlements that allow many of us to stay out of poverty in old age.

Many of my cohorts may read about how the new Republican Congress wants to remake Social Security and Medicare, yet they aren’t involved in the conversation to protect and strengthen these programs. The fact we are a generation of spenders, not savers, should provide the impetus to act.

While we were growing up, everyone was talking about the “generation gap.” We believed our parents just didn’t understand us. As parents and grandparents, we boomers are embracing youth-oriented trends in music, fashion and lifestyle. But, we need to do more than relate to the younger generation — We must be role models by working to ensure that such programs as Social Security and Medicare are there for us and for future retirees.

As the old adage states, “The more things change, the more they remain the same.” Our parents instilled in us all the tools needed to be wise role models. Let our children and grandchildren learn from us the importance of advocacy so they in turn will work to protect their children and grandchildren.

Sondra Shapiro is the former executive editor of the Fifty Plus Advocate, and the founder of Thefiftypluslife.com. Contact her at sshapiro@thefiftypluslife.com.