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10.14.2010

The Unspoken Epidemic - Part Two

The epidemic of the grandparent as parent isn’t all a bad cautionary tale of kids who can’t handle parenting and drug abuse run amuck. In fact, if you take out your hindsight telescope and have a good squint at the past 60 years of American culture, we could see it coming from the get go.

The raw, bleeding fact is we never should have built the ‘nuclear family’ structure in the first place. But prosperity does strange things to a body. It pumps him up to think he can and should have everything. The WWII generation bought homes and started families and built suburbs and isolated themselves from the traditional multi-generational community structure that had been in functioning for a long, long time. They could afford it, things were going well and the middle class flourished. Their children got good schools, a good education and were expected to prosper even more. That was the Baby Boom.

Unfortunately, like all things built mostly on a dream, as each successive generation has come up they’ve wanted more from a pie that was shrinking and an inflationary world where buying power was also dwindling. What did they do? Why the responsible thing, of course! They borrowed within an inch of their skin so that they could appear to have it all, even if it was just a facade. Unsavory lenders, eager borrowers, greedy investors, incapable homeowners, and so on all grasping for a bigger piece of a finite pie brought about economic collapse after collapse over the past 30 years which nobody seemed to learn from. No one wanted to admit they were buying way beyond any reasonable calculation of “their means”.

The Nuclear Family finally exploded and we have what you see today. A housing market that still hasn’t reached the bottom of the abyss. Financial markets that need public bailouts because they were too greedy to live on an honest profit. Citizen investors who lost their shirts when they thought they were all that and a bottle of champaign and put their life savings into bloated real estate and get rich quick stocks. And finally our government which has a debt so large we can’t really fathom the amount of money.

Well, there goes the middle class that the WWII generation so nicely started. We’re back to multi-generational households where families have to look after each other really closely. It takes much more than “dad’s” single income to break even and the kids need full time care from someone who isn’t drawing a salary off the family. Thus the grandparents coming out of the woodwork and taking up the slack. The family dynamics these days are more complicated than prior similar generations. Partly because expenses are much higher, partly because of the complexities of drug addiction, abuse problems, high divorce rates, and a pant load of other things.

Right now we’re looking down the tunnel into an uncertain future. Families are regrouping, even if not by choice, and relearning cooperation on a basic needs level. Where will it end? Not well for the middle class if it doesn’t get off it’s collective ass and protect it’s rights politically. We have to admit that we’re not going to get rich and to stop believing that everyone has a shot at fame and fortune. We need to understand that home ownership won’t come to everyone and, with longer lives, no one else is going to protect our old age health and financial well being. We have to decide what’s more important: survival and well being or chasing money to appear to be something we’re not. It’s a tough choice because the Jones’s always look happier, whether they are or not.

In the end, we grandparents on the front lines of this new dynamic are not just looking after our grandchildren. We’re all looking after each other.