Generational Cycles of Sacrifice, Love and Reciprocity

My family in 1963 (I’m the youngest!)

She was young, beautiful, capable and highly intelligent. A college degree and a couple years of teaching under her belt, she married her college-sweetheart, a WWII veteran working on his master’s degree. Within a few years my Mom had given birth to their first child while living in Germany, far from the comforts of home and family. She embraced the challenge then as she did in the future, giving birth to three more babies while my Dad earned his doctorate and developed his academic career. Four children (I’m the youngest) and not a lot of money in those days, my Mom stretched a dollar like it was an enjoyable pursuit. She creatively produced meals(my sister relates a story of a bologna roast!), sewed our clothes and decorated on a shoestring while teaching us these skills.

Were we aware of how much Mom was sacrificing for us? Of course not.

When my sisters and I were growing up, we had all the opportunities we craved – music, dance, acting and horseback riding lessons as well as girl scouts, other clubs and plenty of books to read. Our interests, talents and education were encouraged and nurtured. Mom and Dad attended every performance and school program. We always had health care and food on the table. When we were sick, they always cared for us. There was laughter and love and a very high quality of life in our home.

I’m sure there were many interests Mom would have developed had she not been raising four children. But she sacrificed those, instead following paths that could better include and/or benefit us, such as developing children’s theater programs, volunteering at church and creating a community park.

Photo Credit: Robert Goyer

And now it is my turn to support my Dad and Mom. There is a compact between the generations that feels right to me – a cycle of voluntary giving and receiving:

  • One generation raises the next.
  • The children become more independent and gradually their parents’ and grandparents’needs increase.
  • The younger generation reciprocates, providing support for their elders.

It’s an intergenerational exchange of mutual care and support motivated by love, gratitude, a sense of responsibility or duty and sometimes altruism (the opposite of egoism.) It has been the basis of humanity for thousands of years. But it doesn’t come to fruition in all families.

It saddens me when I see so many of my parents’ peers whose families don’t live up to this generational commitment of reciprocity. I do not have children, and I often wonder if anyone will support me as I do my parents, but that doesn’t stop me from being here for them. Mom never abandoned me, and I will never abandon her.

Sure we had our conflicts as I was growing up! It’s a natural part of the parent-child relationship. But with growth comes perspective, and long ago I realized the bottom line: my parents have always been there for me and my sisters. They provided a loving home for us as we grew up, and continued to do so for some of us and many of their grandchildren at various times in our adulthood.

Many people ask me why I chose to move across the country to provide caregiving for my parents as they became more vulnerable and their needs increased. Why I am willing to make such sacrifices in my own career, relationships and interests in order to support them? The answer is easy for me – they sacrificed for me when I was vulnerable and now it is my turn to sacrifice for them. It’s the right thing to do. It’s just that simple.

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