Farm and craft work gave children practice for supporting themselves as adults, teaching them valuable skills and a work ethic that gave them confidence.
Instead of workers expected to contribute to the family business according to their abilities, kids morphed into mere adornments — something like pets with a promising future.
Today, the American nuclear family gets its education from school, its entertainment from movies and TV and its advice from social media. That leaves old people with few economic roles in the family outside of cheap babysitters and providers of (hopefully) expensive gifts at birthdays and Christmas.
In contrast to most of American history, today both the elderly and children are free-riders in the family economy. But while parents lavish adoration on even the brattiest kids, those same parents are more likely to show annoyance to their own elderly parents who may need help.
But whether comfortable or poor and lonely, today’s older Americans know that expecting their adult kids to support them merely out of affection or duty promises about as much security as planning to rely on the kindness of strangers.