The Silent Generation – Another Key to the Eldercare Code

By Barbara E. Friesner, NABBW’s Eldercare Expert

My first article for the National Association of Baby Boomer Women was exactly 5 years ago (which staggers me!!)    That first article was about our Vicky-D (Victorian/Depression era generation) parents who are now about 85 years old and up – born roughly between 1905 and 1925.

I mentioned that Vicky-D’s are generally (and I say generally because what is true for most is not true for all.  Other factors – such as region of country, raised in the city or country, economic status, how long they lived in the US, etc. will have an impact):

  • Very private
  • Very proud
  • Have very strictly defined fe/male roles.  (The women were the mothers/caregivers and homemakers and the men were the breadwinners.)
  • Respect & rarely question or challenge authority (eg: doctors)
  • Money (or the lack of it) is a concern and rarely far from their minds

These are the highlights – the primary traits that we Baby Boomers usually crash up against when  trying to help our aging parents.

But wait a minute . . .  if Vicky-D’s were born between 1905 and 1925 and Baby Boomers were born between 1945-65 – that leaves 20 years unaccounted for – between 1925 and 1945 – people who would be between 65 and 85 today.   That’s because there’s another generation – a relatively small generation because people were having fewer children in the economic and political upheaval of the 1930’s – between the Baby Boomers and the Vicky-Ds.

This generation was raised with all of the Vicky-D values, character, and personal discipline. OK – so if they were so like then what difference does it make that it’s a different generation?  I can deal with them the same way as the Vicky-D’s.  Well . . . no!  Because of their generational experiences, they also had many of the traits of the Baby Boomer generation.  OK, then I’ll deal with them the same way as a Baby Boomer.   Nope . . . can’t do that either!

Although they may “swing” between the 2 generations, (which is why some called them the “Swing” generation) they are a very unique generation which in 1951, Time magazine dubbed the “Silent Generation” – a term which I think better describes and defines them. Why?  Because of the two world-shattering experiences during their formative years – the Great Depression and World War II and the impact those experiences had on them.

The Great Depression was devastating for everyone, of course, but for these children I think it was the worst. In those days, no one talked about personal things with the children – especially about money. So their world was crashing in on them and they had no idea what was happening in their own family.  Yet, at the same time, many children had to take on greater responsibilities. Some youngsters found jobs when their parents couldn\’t, reversing the normal roles of provider and dependent and parent and child. But it was the way it was and they had to deal with it in silence.  Some children were even sent away to live with relatives or strangers because their parents couldn\’t afford to feed and clothe them. While it may have been for their own good, they had to suffer in silence. And they were probably the lucky ones because at the same time, there were over 200,000 abandoned children wandering the country as a result of the breakup of their families.

Then came World War II. While their fathers went to war and their mothers went to work for the war effort, Silents were home alone. In fact, they were the original “latch-key” kids. They were required to be good little boys and girls – and again, suffer in silence.

Later, when they grew up, many Silents fought in the Korean War (ironically sometimes referred to as the “Forgotten War,” a term which applies perfectly to the men and women who fought in it.)   When Silents came home, the world had moved on and they silently got on with their lives.

The Silent generation grew up to be strong and self-sufficient yet they tended to stay out of the spotlight – preferring  to work behind the scenes. For example, Silents didn\’t become the star – they became the stage managers. They didn\’t become the president – they became the president\’s chief of staff.  It was particularly difficult for the Silent generation women.  They were expected to conform with social norms but many Silent women roiled inside as the Baby Boomer generation got so many of the benefits Silents worked long, hard, and silently for.

Silently is also how they communicate. They are generally reluctant to speak up when they disagree but they resent being told what to do. They have an opinion but they were raised not to voice it or even offer it.   As a result, many Baby Boomers who try to help their Silent loved ones interpret their silence as agreement, acquiescence, even lack of opinion.  Big mistake!   They very much want to be a part of the discussion – especially when they are the topic.

In fact, many Baby Boomers are seeing the Silent’s feelings about that manifest itself in a surprising way.   Now, after being silent for so long, many Silent women are starting to push back.  For example:  I was recently told by a Silent woman: “I\’m 70 years old and I\’ve been quiet my whole life. Not any more. From here on out, I\’m speaking up. I\’m not taking any garbage off of anyone any more!”

This is important information because if we want to have good communication (and the fact is, successfully working with your aging loved one is all about communication) then we have to understand where they\’re coming from as a unique generation.   Hopefully from this very brief overview, you can see that, because of their generational experiences, this unique generation is a major force to be respected.

© Copyright  AgeWiseLiving™  2010    You can find information about how to talk with your aging loved ones in  “The Ultimate Caregiver’s Success System” by going to www.AgeWiseLiving.com.   While there, sign up for Barbara’s free weekly newsletter.  You can also contact Barbara  by calling toll-free (877) AGE-WISE.  Barbara E. Friesner is the country’s leading Generational Coach and expert on issues affecting seniors and their families.  She is an adjunct professor at Cornell University.