Guest column: Attend to your parents — or else

Chicago Tribune

The following editorial appeared in the Chicago Tribune on Monday, April 1:

If you’re a grown-up with parents, you may think it’s a major pain to have to take time out of your busy life to go see them or have them over. You may get tired of their hints that they don’t get enough attention. You may even have to listen to resentful complaints or demands. Plus those questions about why you let your kids get away with (fill-in-the-blank)…

Think you’ve got it tough? Some of your contemporaries in China gladly would trade places with you.

That’s because in the world’s most populous nation, attending to your filial obligations is no longer entirely up to your discretion. It’s a legal obligation. The government has enacted a law mandating that children visit their parents and that employers give the children time off to do so. And if Junior shirks his duty, Mom and Dad can sue him to force compliance.

Chinese culture has long placed a heavy emphasis on respect and care for parents. “While father and mother are alive,” said Confucius, “a good son does not wander far afield.” But in China’s fast-paced modern economy, many sons and daughters take jobs far from where they were raised, and see their parents only rarely.

That doesn’t sit well with the elders. “I know the person who drafted this provision, and the first thing I told him was, ‘Really nice move,'” Ninie Wang of the Gerontological Society of China told The New York Times.

Americans who have not reached middle age may consider such remedies laughable. What they may not have considered is that the ranks of seniors are being rapidly augmented by the baby boomers, who have long enjoyed the power that goes with outnumbering every other generation. Boomers are used to getting their way, and they are not about to give that up just because they’ve got gray hair and creaking joints.

No sirree. Boomers pushed Frank Sinatra and Perry Como aside for the Beatles and Stones. They got the draft abolished. They got the voting age changed from 21 to 18. They got the drinking age lowered for them — and then raised for their kids.

They think the world revolves around them because for two-thirds of a century, it has. In retirement, they will have not only outsized numbers, but even more time to spend arranging the world to their satisfaction.

The generations that follow them have long worried about paying to keep Social Security and Medicare benefits at the level these fledgling seniors have been led to expect. But boomers will not be bought off with mere money. They will expect time with the kids — and the grandkids. They will expect company for Sunday dinners and summer trips. Birthdays and holidays — you can guess.

What if they don’t get what they want? Well, the Chinese have devised one option. And if we know anything about our representatives in Washington, it’s that they have no desire to take on a bunch of cranky old folks with a habit of showing up on Election Day.

A couple of decades back, seniors who were protective of their retirement benefits earned the nickname “greedy geezers.” Greedy? Kids, you ain’t seen nothing yet.