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Relationships - August 2017

What IS fair?


Maggi Stamp is a highly qualified relationship counsellor and trainer who writes each month about emotional and practical concerns and challenges that many of us meet in later life. For 20 years, as well as running a private practise, Maggi worked with the organisation Relate to help married and single people, cohabiting couples, same sex couples, families, young and old people and the bereaved to develop, foster and enjoy healthy and fulfilling relationships. No less important, as she is herself a wife, mother and grandmother, she brings a lifetime of varied and eventful experience to enhance her empathy and understanding.  

Many of her examples are based on concerns that clients, family and friends have presented over the years. In the monthly articles where she responds to issues raised by readers, she strictly respects confidentiality and never identifies those who write to her. But the individual worries they raise are invariably felt by others, so her responses can help many.

You can write to Maggi at maggi@laterlife.com 
for her to respond in the column.



What IS fair?

Dear Maggi,

I am fed up with my situation and upset too. Ever since our son and daughter-in-law found out that my husband voted 'Leave' in our Brexit referendum and there was an almighty row, they have hardly been to visit us. We are missing so much of our grandchildren's lives that it leaves me feeling rejected and unhappy. As well as that, from the things that were said, we feel criticised for being part of the older generation.

It is so miserable these days in our house. What can I do to persuade my son to get things into a different perspective? We are still his mum and dad, who love him, and care about him and his family just as much as we always did!

Worried Mum


This is a problem which, it seems, has hit a lot of families in the last year. It really has struck a raw nerve in the younger generation. It is sited deep in the insecurity they feel about the decision to leave the European Community, 27 other countries to which we have been closely connected for all their knowing years. And I can understand that. It is all they have known. Yet we, as a nation, have voted to dissolve many of the ties that bind us to those neighbour nations.

My own family is no exception. Although I myself chose to vote 'Remain', the upset, anger and disbelief in my sons, who voted likewise, was directed indiscriminately at all older people, fearing their way of life would be under threat and feeling too that those responsible for the upheaval ("the old" as it was put in one heated moment) were to blame for it all.

We seem to be living through a period of history with a special mood, a ‘zeitgeist’ throughout the world which embodies ideas and beliefs particular to our times. Technological and intellectual changes are quickening the need for radical re-thinking about how working life is planned, how children are raised and educated, how transport, trade, medical care and even leisure and retirement are funded and arranged.

Younger generations seem to see anyone who has retired or is close to it as 'lucky old people'. They do not face the prospect of having to work until they’re almost 70. They might well own their home and have little or any mortgage. They have time to travel, money to spend and leisure unlimited. And their taxes, they feel, have funded all that!

It is true that in some ways the post-war generations are the lucky ones, with pensions more generous than they are going to be in future - pensions, moreover, starting “early” at ages 60 or 65. But most pensioners know all too well how misleading that 'lucky old people' label’ can be. After decades of hard work, people look forward to a healthy retirement, and those who get a 'happy and healthy' one are indeed fortunate. But for many, pensions are meagre, so their finances are a constant worry. For others, anticipated leisure time is, instead, devoted to caring for their own parents, or supporting their own working children by caring for grandchildren, or caring for an ailing spouse. That’s work too!

Those of us born before the 1960s did not have what so many younger generations regard as essentials. I'm sure you all have your own memories of homes without modern gadgets, electricity, central heating, double glazing, telephones, abundant food, cars.

What we learned by living a harder life, of making and mending, was part of what made us successful and careful - adults who looked after what we had, giving the young their comfortable family homes and, indeed, beginning to provide those new essentials! And so we are often dismayed by some younger people’s lack of awareness, not having a clue of how to conserve and maintain what they have: ‘it stopped working’ equals ‘throw it away and buy another’.

Our backgrounds, experiences and differences can create a wall of misunderstanding and resentment between the generations. We older ones are perhaps as much at fault in our attitudes towards the way of life of the younger generations as they are for not trying to understand what has made us the people we are.

There is nothing worse than a 'preachy ' parent. You know, the sort who says "You don't know you're born, you young ‘uns. In my day...blah blah..." So do avoid going anywhere near that kind of hectoring monologue. But to have two-way conversations about different experiences and backgrounds in a factual, history-telling way, not a ‘this is how everyone should be’ way, makes it easier to help younger people understand. And in a healthy conversation, you and your husband are obliged to ask about your son’s main influences too, and listen to what he tells you whether you agree with him or not.

Worried Mum...I feel that it is you who will be needed to smooth the way to mending what has broken in your family. How does your husband feel about his decision now we all know more about it? Not everyone who voted ‘Out’ is any longer sure that it was the right thing to do. But here we are, with the break getting closer week by week.

We see so many unfair things in life, and for many in the UK, this is one of the big ones. Younger generations have their own ways of measuring fairness and these are very different from those of older folk. It won’t help your son to change his attitude by telling him it isn't fair to blame older people for the present disarray in the country because they voted in a different way than his generation.
I'm sure he thinks it isn’t fair that the result is what it is. But a huge lesson in life is learning that fairness is a slippery fish.

What you can do is to talk with him about the closer society around the family in which everyone has a degree of control and responsibility. That responsibility is that everyone strives to ensure the bigger issues do not break or damage all of you as a unit. You were once a close and supportive group - so you can be again. Society works when we can accept that not everyone in a family has to think in exactly the same way. We aren’t clones - we’re individuals with our own feelings, thoughts and experiences. Tell him that your husband did not vote to damage him or the grandchildren. That vote was based on his own thoughts and experiences, just as your son, and you, voted according to yours.

None of you did anything to deliberately harm your loved ones.
It might well take a while to persuade him to accept that family cohesion is more important than avenging his own sense of general grievance for the country’s future governance by laying blame on both of you, but do be patient and gently persistent. I’m sure you will find that his fears are for the future of his own kids - for him, they are the future just as we represent the past.

But your grandchildren are being deprived of their grandparents for the sake of a political principle. AND THAT IS NOT FAIR.



You can write to Maggi at maggi@laterlife.com for her to respond in the column.


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