On the Aging Population: Problems

May 25, 2012

Years ago-and some of us still remember it-children were an investment. At that time, there was no health insurance, life insurance, or pension plans. Parents invested in their children and expected their children to take care of them if they got sick and when they got old.And they were not regarded as an investment only for the long run. Children were expected to be productive and add value to the family even while they were still growing: Girls helped with housework; boys worked the field.I, for example, started working at the age of 11, when my father was hurt in a work-related accident. For a while, I was actually responsible for supporting my family.When my father got cancer at age 55, he stopped working altogether, and I supported my parents for the next thirty years until they both passed away. They had no life insurance, no pension plans. I took complete responsibility for my parents' well-being.All that has changed, at least in developed countries. People have insurance and pension plans. They put funds away during their working lives to pay for an old-age home, or assisted living facility, where they will be taken care of by paid caregivers. They even insure the cost of their own burial; God forbid their children should have to carry that burden.While children are no longer an asset, the liability of having them has increased many folds. For one, the price of children's education has gone sky high, but that is the "easy" cost to bear. What about the emotional and psychological costs to keep the children away from drugs, which are all over the place, in every school; the efforts to impress upon them the dangers of unprotected sex and of premature pregnancies; and the time and effort to protect them from numerous other very powerful negative influences?They are a high-priced investment, with little or no return. And I am not just referring to a monetary returns. Children used to give their parents and grandparents respect, which was the most valuable and satisfying return. But, this rarely happens anymore.Let me share some experiences to illustrate what respect feels like in a Jewish religious family.It is Friday evening and time to welcome the Sabbath.Everyone must be home early and be ready for the prayers before the first star appears in the sky.The family gathers for the Friday evening meal. No one is late.The whole family dresses festively; the men often in white shirts, and everyone sits around the table, with the father at the head of the table.First, the family washes their hands. From that moment on until the blessing is read, there is absolute silence and throughout the meal, the children are obedient and, if old enough, help serve the meal.The table is set with food. The mother is beaming with pride. The food on the table, the family around the table: this is her portfolio of success in her role of making a house into a home.Now, the father sings a song, which is a chapter from the Old Testament, about a valiant woman. He is praising the woman of the house, who earns the family's respect for being a valiant wife and mother.Next, the father gets up, kisses his wife on the cheek, and goes to each of his children, one at a time. Each child, of any age, kisses the father's hand, and the father blesses the child, while putting that hand on the top of the child's head.Next, the wine is blessed, and a single wine glass especially dedicated to the blessing of the wine is filled and passed around the table to be shared, from one family member to another, until each person has had a sip.Next comes the blessing of the bread: The father takes a piece of the challah, the braided bread that is baked especially for the Sabbath, and gives to every member of the family a piece of it--first the mother, then the eldest child, etc. This symbolizes that he is the bread earner, and the one who feeds the family. It is recognized respectfully and thankfully by the family. The bread is shared and blessed.Now is the time for everyone, including the children, to sing traditional Sabbath songs while the food is served.At the end of the meal, a blessing is sung to thank the Lord for providing food for the family and keeping them healthy.This is the ritual in which, in one way or another, the family expresses respect, appreciation, and love to each other and especially to the parents.Now compare this to the modern world in which we live.If you have a TV at home eventually, you will probably barely recognize your children. They will have a language of their own, which they have picked up from TV programs or computer games you do not watch or play. They will wear their hair in styles that, had I tried it when I was a teenager, I would have been kicked out of the house in no time. They will have piercings on their ears, lips, tongue, nose, and even eyelids, and tattoos anywhere and everywhere.Who are those kids? Where did they come from? They look like aliens.They learn from TV disrespect for authority, to talk back, to interrupt their elders. The kids take phone calls during the meal, or text each other under the table, or leave the table altogether to talk to their friends--without even asking if it is OK.There is no economic return in having children anymore. And the unfortunate truth is that there is no psychological return, either. (I just read somewhere why today's children are called the Y generation: Y should I work? Y should I clean my room? Y you do not let me do whatever I want...?)Now, whose fault is this?There are no bad soldiers, just bad generals. There are no bad workers, just incompetent managers. And by the same token, there are no bad kids, just neglectful parents.I feel that modern society has abandoned its most important role, and it is to secure the quality of the next generation. We are not only destroying the environment for the next generations and leaving a debt for them to carry which is staggering, we are also doing a lousy job of raising them.And I am not referring only to formal education. I am referring to their attitude, their behavior.Respect for parents is one of the Ten Commandments.Think of it, why is it so important?When respect is lost, the family fabric that ties us together is torn apart and the basic cell of society is destroyed.As children become more of a liability than an asset, parents cut down on the number of children they have. The result is an aging population. Countries where the population is aging are going to have serious demographic problems: problems that will affect their economies, traditions, and social structure. We need to start thinking about what it will take to turn the tide, to improve our dedication to parenting. And no time is soon enough.Sincerely,Dr. Ichak Kalderon Adizes

Written by
Dr. Ichak Adizes