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Role reversal: adult children and care for elderly parents

It isn't easy for a child to watch a parent getting old. For many families, a tipping point can come when the roles get reversed: parents, who once provided the care, are now in need of it themselves.

Of course, the type of care arrangement required varies from family to family. But in Massachusetts and across the nation, there are common issues that families need to face. These are issues such as the need for long-term care planning or the creation of a power of attorney for someone unable to manage their own affairs.

Sometimes, however, adult children are remiss in addressing such issues. The problems this causes can be seen in comparative perspective by looking at what's been happening recently in China.

For centuries, core Chinese values emphasized family loyalty and filial piety. In recent years, though, with widespread economic growth and more freedom of movement, many elderly parents have received little attention from their children.

And with China's longstanding policy of limiting couples to one child, there are fewer of those children available to help care for their parents in old age.

The problem has become so bad that the Chinese government has responded with a new law. The law seeks to encourage children to become more involved in caring for their elderly parents.

For parents and children who live far apart, this involvement could include something as basic as checking in my phone. The new law also requires employers to provide time off from work for employees to visit parents who are over the age of 60.

By American standards, this obviously seems like an odd role for government. But it is also a reminder of children's obligations to their aging parents right here in the U.S.

Source: Bloomberg Businessweek, "Why China Is Ordering Adult Children to Visit Their Parents," July 2, 2013

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