[This article was originally published on April 12, 2004. The links were updated on August 24, 2018.]
Mary Pipher, Ph.D., Another Country: Navigating the Emotional Terrain of Our Elders (Riverhead Books, New York: 1999).
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Older adults may sometimes feel they are living in a different country from the one inhabited by younger generations. Raised in another era with very different values, they now find themselves in an age-segregated, youth-obsessed culture that often appears to have little use for them.
At the same time, the adult children of these elders are finding it difficult to openly discuss care decisions with those who have always cared for them: A son tries to decide whether to allow his incapacitated mother move in with his family. A recent widower grows increasingly depressed and his daughter doesn't know how to help.
In Another Country, psychologist and author Mary Pipher suggests that such conflicts are in part the result of a widening generational chasm. Using the real-life struggles of friends, family, and her own therapeutic clients, Pipher illustrates the myriad problems that aging brings up, and then maps out common ground where the generations can resolve their difficulties.
At the root of many such struggles, Pipher maintains, are misunderstandings based on different cultural upbringings. Pipher, who wrote the bestseller Reviving Ophelia, employs her considerable psychological skills to help Baby Boomers appreciate the values and language of those who grew up in the teens, Twenties and Thirties.
Pipher hopes that this mutual understanding will lead to more intergenerational mixing, which she says will be better for everyone.
Connection with others is one key to a vibrant and fulfilling life, but too often the old are unnecessarily sidelined and isolated. To the contrary, Pipher views America's older citizens as potentially "the great healers in our culture." Grandparents, she reminds us, are "the only adults in America who have plenty of time for children." In one of the book's most moving passages, Pipher takes us to a rest home where grade school children regularly visit an elderly "partner." Both the children and the residents eagerly anticipate these visits. Pipher also suggests that older, wiser adults can help younger members of our goal-obsessed society learn how to live more "in the moment."
Another Country is an almost essential guidebook for anyone—young or old—confronting the uncharted territory of coping with old age.