Sunset at 60 ?

While gender stereotyping is a very prevalent topic these days, there is another which is equally pervasive and might be harder to classify as black or white.Stereotyping of the elderly and the overarching expectation to conform or to risk being judged.A short while ago I happened to chance on this article on Facebook.

And it brought to the fore a lot of thoughts I had on the subject of stereotyping of elders in the society.


Young grandchildren invariably imply a duty for the grandparents,if the parents happen to be working professionals. While it is perfectly understandable and a great arrangement,if both parties are amenable to it.ย It is most certainly not,if the grandparents would rather have a choice and freedom on the subject. Implicitly assuming that one’s parents should drop everything on their plate and come to look after the grandchildren smacks of inconsideration. Whether they really have a lot on their plate or not, is also of little consequence.

The problem revolves around choice. Do grandparents really have a choice to say ‘No’. If they do, do they risk of being judged by everybody around including their own children. The comments to the article above also interestingly implies,that to be looked after in old age, looking after the grandchildren is the price one must pay.
“And I shall have my pound of flesh..” said Shylock. If relationships are indeed so transactional , then where is the pound of flesh for bringing up the children themselves.

As people get older, our society starts putting the emphasis on religion and ritualistic traditions.The unsaid expectation of withdrawal from worldly affairs looms larger with progressing age and any inclination of wanting to enjoy material interests is only looked down upon. While declining importance of materialistic interests and progress along the spiritual path is the aspiration of many spiritual seekers, its correlation to age, puts an undue strain on an individual and snatches away the choice of how one wants to live. Spirituality as a way of life can only be by choice. Though I did take a recourse to talking about religion and spirituality in the same breath, vast differences in the way they are practiced is a topic for another day.

Closely following on its heals and an offshoot of declining materialistic interests is the restriction on forming any romantic liaisons. Do desires die when one is old ? A controversial topic by any standard, but the fact remains that desires don’t die a sudden death. One just chooses to exert a control on desires which are not appropriate.While lonely people finding companions at the fag end of life is perfectly acceptable abroad, here it would be a complete taboo. Although single men &
women remarrying is gaining more acceptance, the taboo still remains strong against somebody considered past the hill.Films like ‘Cheeni kum’ explored this topic to a certain extent,challenging accepted societal norms.

In a society which has strict codes of conductย laid out for almost every strata of society, breaking norms definitely draws eyebrows.And if those are of your own flesh and blood, then it becomes even more onerous.While the article in question did talk about a point-in-time event, it resulted from years of upbringing of the very same children who were not taught the importance of giving space and consideration for another’s view. The root of the problem which lies not in parent-child relationships but in all relationships is giving “space” – one of the most critical foundation for any healthy relationship.Again, that is a post for another day…

25 thoughts on “Sunset at 60 ?

  1. Expectation is at the core in matters of relationship. While no expectation is idealistic having reasonable ones is the realism. I read that one too and personally there’s no obligation at that point of life where I feel they should live for themselves first and taking into consideration health factor too as being devoted to others prime of their life. Very nice perspective.

  2. jaishvats

    There are grandparents that are apprehensive about leaving their grandkids with a nanny or a day care Center and hence end up showing interest though they’d actually rather be pursuing some interests of their own… You are right… Just like gender stereotyping there is age stereotyping… Across ages in fact… At 40 plus if someone says she wants to learn ballet for instance.. Imagine what society would say,.. Live and let live boards are the need of the hour

    1. True that Jaishree. Grandparents apprehension is also there. But then again, that’s a choice they are making. Yes, we get stereotyped at every juncture.. not married, married and no kids..etc etc.. there’s no end to it.

  3. I read the story about the couple who would rather not babysit their grandchildren; it is sensible enough. You have raised further questions in your post which are like tips of an iceberg. Do I see a sinister blackmail in the attitude of the younger folks just because their parents begot them? And if we happen not to be the parents do we owe the world back to the younger ones as if the terms of a lease have expired? Respect for greying hairs is already toppling downhill and God knows I have a decent enough crop on my waning top already. I am afraid the afternoon years are already being written off not to speak of the twilight streaks.

    1. Respect for greying hairs is definitely on the decline, but I tend to think that can be easily remedied if the more difficult problem of respecting people’s space is solved and we start giving consideration to another’s point of views. As Jaish pointed out, the problem is there at all levels, at every age and every relationships. Of unmet expectations and undue pressures.

  4. Stereotyping, unfortunately, seems to be the way the world works. To understand that any individual act in the context of that individual’s own character, mental make-up and circumstances makes it necessary to understand that person AS a person – something that no-one seems to have the time for. So, it is easier to judge on ‘if he acted thus, he must be thus’ and so on – a rule-book approach that I once lampooned in one of my posts as you may recollect.

    Likewise with expectations. It is easier by far to think ‘if this be the relationship, these are legitimate expectations that ought to be fulfilled by the other party’ than to see whether that person would feel comfortable fulfilling those expectations. As in everything else, though, when we find ourselves the target of expectations, it is the other person who is being unreasonable since he ‘ought to know your temperament and situation’.

    The only thing the modern world has contributed to this is the word ‘stereotyping’ ๐Ÿ™‚ All else is the same old ‘the more things change, the more they remain the same’ ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Sometimes I think.. is it because of lack of time.. People just dont have the time to study, understand personalities and for the sheer lack of patience, use a templatized approach for everything. Once we have bracketed somebody as ‘so and so’, well we can just move on and get down to bracketing so many other people in the real and the virtual world ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. alkagurha

    My mother, 70 is not inclined towards religious group activities in her apartment. For her, religion is personal. She enjoys social activities but refrains from kirtan groups. Thankfully, her friends respect her choice. As you say, spirituality as a way of life is a matter of choice. You tend to make like minded friends in your sunset years.

  6. Hm… Interesting topic. But guess one has to see case by case. There are also people who in their own younger days outsourced childcare to their parents, inherited wealth from the same parents and enjoy and again in their olden days as well asking their children to provide for them but saying they need to take care of their kids themselves.

    1. Hmm.. an interesting point Karthik. But then, I feel one really cannot weigh everybody else’s actions and analyze whether the fair share of enjoyment and problems have been meted out to them. One can only live one’s life and do what he or she feels is the right thing to do.

  7. You have rightly pointed out that often grandparents have little choice in caring or not caring for their grandchildren. It becomes even more difficult since they are expected to do it the way the younger generation wants, making the elders feel more like nannies. When the children catch on to the dynamics of the relationship between their parents and grandparents, it becomes a running battle. I think you have read my long series on the subject of elder care ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Thanks Zephyr. Yes, I remember the long and illuminating series that you had posted on elder care. As in any relationship dynamics, how the parties involved deal with it, goes a long way in how it is perceived by everybody. If the attitude of either the parents or the grandparents is confrontational, then there is no joy in it any more.

  8. My parents refused to baby-sit my daughter when she was young! In fact, I know many grandparents who refuse saying they’ve done their bit and now it’s the children’s turn.

    I feel it’s up to to change perceptions. I’m already molding myself to be a cool granny

    1. To have a choice in the matter is the most important of all. While in certain cases, it might be very difficult to exert a different choice, how the matter is approached and dealt with by all parties dictates the relationship. Everybody deserves to be treated with respect and not to be taken for granted.
      I am sure you will be one cool granny Purba ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. deponti

    This resonates particularly with me. I am 61, and have moved away from organized religion and ritual, and have stepped out of the traditional “TamBram Mami” role that I conformed to for nearly 4 decades. My marriage also ended after 37 years when my husband did not like my increasing passion for wildlife and “gallivanting about with various people”. I still find so much pressure to conform, and it has taken me quite a while to get to a point of comfort (well, not always comfortable still!) where I can say, I won’t wear a bindi, I won’t do all these pujas…I’ve never been a kitty-party person and that’s also given me a reputation for snootiness. Indeed, our paths in life seem to be drawn to a T by society and there is subtle but strong pressure to conform. Nature is probably my religion, because it recharges my inner batteries, but I don’t find many people understanding or empathizing! I am often both an object of pity (an elderly lady, alone) and of scorn (doesn’t conform, she must be batty.). It’s taken me a while to understand, and internalize, that I need not conform if I don’t want to…and that others’ opinions don’t matter.

    On the subject of childcare (or IAS…Indian Ayah Service)..I took a considered decision,not being a career woman, to go and help my daughter (in the US) whenever I could. For me, it’s been a time of great joy, and the bond I’ve developed with my grandchildren runs very deep. I do see both children who insist that their parents should come and help out…but I also see the obverse. Indian parents often look down upon “work” such as childcare and housework, and think that the children are making “servants” (very derogatory term!) out of them. They expect to be waited on when they go to their children’s homes, and instead of thinking that they are helping, they feel put upon and exploited. Thankfully, I actually like doing housework without a maid to supervise:I can drive and also take a bus/train and be independently mobile, and I have developed my own (birding, of course!) friends in the city where my daughter lives…and keep weekend mornings for such outings. It needs some re-thinking of one’s traditional beliefs to get through to the true joy of helping one’s children and enjoying one’s grandchildren.

    Sorry for the tremendously long comment..but you tapped into two deep veins of my being! Deepa Mohan.

    1. Thanks for taking out the time to write such a long comment and to share your personal experiences Deepa. I am sure that the choices you made would not have been an easy one, given the strict conformist attitude that exists in our society today. To think different or to be different has consequences and the foremost one, is being alienated in one way or the other. That’s the cost we pay for choosing to be different.

      As I belong to a TamBrahm family myself, I know fully well what you are talking about.I dont wear jewelery or bindi most of the time and neither do I conform to the various religious rituals.No subject is really blasphemous to be discussed or nothing is beyond questioning for me.Some years ago, while the non-conformist nature did not really matter much, cocooned as I was in the cubicles of IT offices and select circle of people.With growing age, I find more and more instances where my being different also alienates me. In the end I figured , it was down to a cost benefit analysis.

      It’s great you made a conscious choice in a lot of things in your life and didnt spend it wallowing in regrets. Not everybody has enough willpower or courage to do that. Kudos to you. It’s an interesting point you made there about discovering the true joy in rearing grandchildren or doing housework. Yes, that aspect does play on the mind of several people who decide to take it on,as a duty. Probably given a choice they would rather have not done it. Either due to not finding the whole thing joyful (which again I consider is a matter of individual choice,value systems, biases or prejudices) or due to other compulsions. Deriving joy out of everything one does is a boon not everyone is able to cultivate.

  10. deponti

    And I keep getting the “for YOUR age” compliment. My son-in-law’s paternal grandfather is 100 and still going for a walk every morning; his maternal grandmother, who is 95, went to Costa Rica last year with her present boyfriend. So my frame of reference for age is very different!

  11. All boils down to choices one makes. Stereotyping is the norm. Not only for grandparents. It is what the societal norms dictate/formulate. Whether you wish to live your life on your terms or otherwise is a choice you have to make, irrespective.

  12. “Choice” is something our society is loath to allow, simply because they’ve grown up with certain beliefs of what “should” and “shouldn’t” be. Also, worrying about what the rest fo the world will think puts a stopper on most thought processes and actions. In this scenario, even grandparents who really don’t want to extend their parenting to their grand children, hesitate to blatantly say no.

    While my Mom was yearning to be with her grandchild, I know many people who simply said NO even before their children got married – preparing them in advance for the shock of not taking their “services” for granted.

    I do think it should be voluntary – whatever we do. No regrets later.

    I’d like to think I’ll make a fun granny!

    1. Yes Vidya. Completely with you. It has to be a matter of ‘choice’ and of course, one has to live with the consequences of that choice. But it would be good in our society if the choice one makes in this respect, doesnt carry a lot of cost ๐Ÿ™‚

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