If you need your adult children to eventually care for you, then that should factor into an equation NOW.
I’m still a little tired from our impromptu trip out west last week, and I’ve been thinking about something for a while now that I’d like to just say. It’s going to be a bit of a rant, and I may not sound very sympathetic. But I think this is important.
My in-laws looked after their 93-year-old neighbour for 18 years. She passed away a few weeks ago. She had no other family, and they stepped in, and did so much for her. I just flew out to be with my dad as he died. And I have so many friends who are caring for aging parents. Pretty much all of us, likely, will at some point have to look after our parents.
And that’s a good thing. We should care for them. But here’s the problem: Many of these parents don’t do things when they’re younger and they’re still able to to make life easier on their kids who will eventually have to care for them.
So I’d just like to put in a plea, on behalf of adult children of senior parents everywhere, that we make it the new normal that senior parents will adjust to their children’s lives. Please. It just isn’t fair otherwise. So here are a couple of thoughts I’ve been having.
If you need adult children to care for you, then it’s incumbent on you to move to where your adult children are.
This may be controversial, but hear me out. I understand that a lot of people in their late 60s and early 70s love where they’re living, and have a ton of friends and a church community and a house that they cherish. But one day they’re going to need kids to care for them. And that is just too hard to do if you live on the other side of the country.
Sure, you may think that you’re totally self-sufficient now. And you may say to yourself, “that’s fine, I just won’t rely on my kids!”
But let’s get real. If you have a stroke and you’re in the hospital, you know that your child is going to have to fly out to be with you. And do people understand how hard that is to do if they have kids who also need them? Do we understand how expensive that is?
And then what if decisions about nursing homes and care facilities need to be made? What if your house needs to be packed up in a hurry? Who is going to do that? Your church family? Your friends? No, it’s going to have to be family. And that’s just a lot to ask of someone who is also raising small kids, or teens, or who has a job where it’s super hard to take a month off at a time.
Or let’s say you fall and break a wrist or a hip and you can’t care for yourself for a few weeks. Who is going to have to come and arrange things?
Even if seniors think they’re self-sufficient, eventually you need help. So I believe that you owe it to your kids to move near them, so that when you do need help, it’s easier on them. And you should move when you’re still young enough to make the adjustment and make new friends. It’s really only fair. It’s an awful lot to expect that kids will be able to drop everything and fly to you constantly. Or that they’ll make some 10-hour drive every other weekend.
I know a family where every weekend for five years was taken up with them having to take turns driving 6 hours to see the parents who desperately needed help but who wouldn’t move out of their house. That is just not fair to your adult children.
You owe it to your adult children to downsize and sort out your stuff
One day you will likely have to leave your home. And even if you don’t, and you die in your home, one day someone is going to have to sort through your house. Do you really want to leave that to your adult children?
When my mom moved into our house a year ago, she spent the year beforehand slowly purging stuff. It was hard! She didn’t realize how much she had. She was going from a house down to two rooms (plus a lot of storage space). She went from a walk in closet to a regular closet. Katie and I spent a day laying all of her clothes out on the bed, category by category (summer tops, winter tops, pants, etc.) and making her choose only a certain number of pieces. We were brutal. But Mom was also participating and laughing because she was still young enough to do so. And now she donates clothes all on her own, because she realizes how little she actually needs!
But she did that purging when she was still well.
I’m the executrix of my aunt’s estate, who has no kids, and she’s making sure that everything is in order and she isn’t leaving me with a huge mess to sort out (although she’s also young and healthy and awesome and unlikely to go for thirty years!). But she’s being responsible and kind.
It’s just kind to get your affairs in order. And it’s a lot easier to live with less stuff!
If you suddenly have to move into a nursing home or care facility, selling the house will be such a huge hassle, and will likely have to be done in a hurry, at the same time as kids are taking time off of work to help get you settled. Make it easier on them now, while you still can.
Please, for the sake of your kids, have a life
Yesterday my mom spent the morning on the phone with a missions agency, working out the details for our missions trip to a children’s home this August. She’s leading the trip with my husband. Then she took a load of stuff to the yard, brought a carload of donations over to a church for their rummage sale, went to her knitting group to knit with some friends, and collected some more yarn for donations, and then visited a friend from Kenya who just had a baby and has no family here, and bounced her baby for two hours. Mom’s the “adopted” grandmother to this young baby who was actually named after her; somehow my mother collects adopted grandchildren. She’s up to five so far (plus two biological ones).
My in-laws are similarly busy. Dad works very part-time helping out a friend with a business, plus they have a ton of friends. Mom likes to volunteer in the soup kitchen and likes to work out at the Y with the seniors’ groups. She also likes to walk at the rec centre with friends.
The point is that all of our three surviving parents do not rely on us for the fun or activity in their lives. Sure, they enjoy when we spend time with them, but they all have lives of their own. When you are lonely, or have few friends, or just stay in your home all the time, it puts a great strain on children. They feel as if they are your only support, and that’s very, very hard.
Most people caring for aging parents are in their 40s and 50s themselves. Many have teenagers. Many have very busy jobs. Many have volunteer activities that they love and that they feel called to. Most of us love our parents and want to help, but caring for parents can become an all-consuming thing, and I just don’t think that’s right. There is a season when parents’ needs will take all of our energy, and that’s okay. But that season should not last years, because adult children have lives they need to live, too.
Again, maybe I’m sounding mean, but I’ve just seen so many friends lose the joy in their lives because everything becomes about helping their parents–and their parents seem unwilling to make the burden lighter. When health issues get bad, often we get to a point where there’s nothing we can do to make the burden lighter. That’s why this all has to happen beforehand, before you get sick, before you need care, before you end up in the hospital. After all, sometimes illness impairs judgment, and even if you would never want to be an undue burden, once your judgment goes, you can’t make these changes. So make them while you are still well!
I want to be there for my mom and my in-laws when they need me. They are all wonderful people who have breathed so much into our lives. But I’ll tell you–I’m also ever so grateful that they all live in the same small town that we do, and that none of them is a hoarder (though my mother-in-law thinks she is because she has boxes in her closet. But she’s a neat freak and doesn’t understand that she’s actually pretty amazing). I’m ever so grateful that they all have social circles and lives of their own, so that they don’t rely on us. And I’m grateful that they would never want us to drop everything for them (even though we would).
That’s the way it should be. And I’ve put this in writing now, so when I’m older, my kids can hold me to it, too.
What do you think? Do seniors owe it to their adult children to make caring for them easier? Do you have a story to share? Let’s talk in the comments!
Follow Up Posts about Senior Parents in this Series:
- Setting Boundaries with Aging Parents
- Splitting Responsibilities for Aging Parents with Your Siblings
- When Parents Allow Adult Children to Be Moochers
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