With the onslaught of articles on the perils of helicopter parenting, including this piece, and concerns that this will leave our children unable to forge on in the face of adversity, I was inspired to witness such strength and courage this past summer at the Bat Mitvah of a dear friend’s daughter. The world is a difficult place now. It seems there’s tragedy and unrest everywhere we turn, so to see this burst of sunlight, a young woman who gave me such perspective, was truly a privilege. I discussed the experience in this article that I wrote for The Huffington Post. As we go through our days, trying to maintain our sense of optimism and positive outlook, I think we could all do well to take a little of Mia’s spirit with us. I hope you enjoy the piece!
As a journalist, I’m constantly observing the world around me, curious about what makes people tick. A never-ending source of fascination for me, as I’m sure it is for many people, is the factors driving longevity. People are living longer than ever. But what’s the recipe for a long life that’s filled with happiness? Research has shown that a big driver is social connections. Those who have meaningful relationships as they age tend to live longer, healthier lives. I was able to see this first-hand as I reported this Wall Street Journal piece on men finding friends after 50. This is an age when male friendships tend to wither while women’s continue to grow stronger. But boomers, never hesitant to act proactively for the sake of their own contentment, are actively joining groups to seek out male companionship. The results are particularly satisfying. It’s clear, based on those I interviewed, that these relationships have enhanced their qualify of life while promoting both physical and intellectual engagement.
When I hear that word, I don’t think of a punishment that my parents levied when I was young. Instead, it takes on a far positive connotation, one of gratefulness this time of year, when I have the chance to reconnect with my childhood friends and family. Last night, one of my long-time friends hosted a reunion of my elementary school class. While I remain in close touch with several of those I have known since I was five-years-old, there were many that I remembered fondly and had not seen in forty plus years. It’s an odd feeling seeing someone when that much time has passed between you. But I found conversations to be effortless; the childhood memories we shared so vividly allowed us to easily bond decades later. A common theme among this group was the simple lives we led, unencumbered by adult intervention. I recalled sleepovers where my friend and I played endless rounds of “Mystery Date,” the board game where you pick a card (or is it spin the wheel? I forget) and hope that the photo of the handsome man in a tuxedo will be there, instead of the “dud.” How would parents of today react to such a board game? We played that game in my friend’s attic in a tiny residence that housed a family of eight. It never seemed particularly cramped to me, but instead full of vibrancy. We reminisced about riding our bikes or walking to each other’s homes without keeping our parents apprised of where we were. In this city of one square mile, a historic neighborhood with sidewalks, we all lived within blocks of each other. And we were raised in humble surroundings. Many parents were working class; the houses were often 1,000 square feet or less. As the family size and incomes grew, many, mine included, moved to larger homes in the same city or left the school district entirely. But I think the common thread, based on this evening spent reconnecting, was that we had a firm foundation, a place full of supportive friends and family who were there when we needed them. It was a situation that allowed us all to try out independence and charting our own course. Many people are eager to shed their childhood skin, moving far away from where they grew up and happily never returning for reunions or to see old friends and family. I feel grateful that I was launched in such a supportive environment. A village raised me and I welcome the chance to return to that place whenever the opportunity arises.
I spent the last two days at the What’s Next Boomer Summit in Chicago, an impressive gathering of 400 organized by Mary Furlong. Over the next 30 years, the population of those turning 65 is expected to double. It’s a daunting number, one that will transform the way companies do business in this country. Many of those attending the Summit were heads of start-up companies with products geared towards the aging industry. One woman is launching a service that allows grandparents to better engage grandchildren over Skype by developing games they can play together. Another is pioneering a device that monitors older people living alone that doesn’t require them to press a button if they fall. It automatically tracks their motions as part of a passive system. An owner of a facility discussed a new approach to treating Alzheimer’s patients, using the gentler term, “memory care.” It’s impressive how many people are using innovative ways to address the many issues that will surface as so many people enter old age. I look forward to writing several articles about this emerging, and fast growing industry, one that not only will be profitable, but hopefully will present some proactive solutions to the vexing problem of elderly care giving.