Many childless baby boomers, partnered and singles, have asked my opinion about elder care for their later years.  The timing of the question usually coincides with their own involvement in caring for their aging parents.  This isn’t surprising since most of us find that as we become more involved with our parents, even in small ways such as mowing a lawn or moving a heavy object, we begin to recognize their increasing vulnerability.  Even if our parents are financially well off, the hiring and overseeing of contractors or service workers can create challenges and even place them at risk.  This realization causes us to reflect on our own future aging and the type of care we would like to receive.

How’s your family caregiving support system looking?

Those who are childless sometimes over-estimate the future involvement of children in caregiving for aging parents.  Sure, some kids will be very involved with their ageing baby boomer parents.  Others, however, will not be involved for all sorts of reasons.  The adult children may live too far away, have too many other demands on their time, or find that their parents are unwilling to accept help.

The track record of filial support of older parents in Canada is very positive.  Adult children have an excellent reputation of assisting vulnerable older relatives.  However, due to the smaller size of the baby boomer families, there will be fewer adult children available to share caregiving roles.  Even with the best of intentions, caring for adult parents may become less common.  This means many older adults, those with and without children, will require alternative caregiving approaches.

Expanding our definition of kin

Intergenerational family caregiving will be one source of assistance for ageing families.  However, caregiving from non-kin will increase in frequency.  Kinship relationships will expand beyond the immediate family.  It will be extended to include friends and neighbours as a support system.  Support may include house-sharing, transportation sharing, and even daily tasks such as meal preparation sharing.  There are many benefits to this approach including:

  1. Increased social network resulting in a reduction in risk of social isolation;
  2. Shared costs resulting in the reduction of expenses and increased likelihood of money lasting one’s lifetime;
  3. Extended period of independent living because each person contributes to their own ability in order to keep the “kinship” solid.

In today’s world the definition of family is already very flexible.  The future definition of family caregiving will also be very flexible.