The Circle of Life: When Parents Become Children Again

I read an interesting string of articles today starting with a followup to the first article by Fabulously Broke, and then the article that spurred the followup over at A Gai Shan Life. Both articles shared different viewpoints concerning whether or not one would take their parents into their home when age, illness or both  strips the parents of the ability to live independently.

Let me share a couple of my thoughts on the subject.

My parents

I don’t recall my parents ever “brainwashing” me when I was a kid, saying things like “remember what I’ve done for you when I am old and need your help” as Fabulously Broke described, though I have heard similar things from friend’s parents in jest. My parents have talked seriously about buying an RV and staying a month+ with each of their seven kids after they officially retire but as I understood this, they would be doing this while they are still fully able-bodied and don’t require care, but this would allow them to visit us all and get to spend time with the grandkids.

I have no problem with my parents plan. Currently we have a crude RV pad and they are welcome to it, but I have been very vocal about my own family’s space. I have told my parents many times in the last few years (the recession hit my dads company pretty hard)  that if they run out of money, there is no way I can support them nor is our home big enough to house my parents and my four siblings that still live at home with them. I’m fairly blunt with my parents about ours and their financial lives and living situation and I want them to know where I stand so there are never any misunderstandings.

My experience with at home care

My parents and in-laws are both too young to require any kind of care now, but my father-in-laws parents live in a special in-law apartment that was built for them in my wife’s parents home. My wife’s grandpa has been in poor health for the past five years at least and it only gets worse as time passes.

At first, he had to use a walker but could still get around with a little help, and could still communicate well. After that, he had several strokes over the course of a few months which really took a toll on his body and mind. Eventually he reached a point where he could no longer use the walker and was confined to a wheelchair.

Now, several hospital-worthy scares later, he is still confined to a wheelchair or found in bed, relies on medical equipment for much of day to day life such as going to the bathroom and eating, and has a nurse that visits on a regular basis to check his various tubes and wires.

And as far as his mind is concerned…well, let’s just say it is tough taking him anywhere in public. His hearing is also close to gone, so anything that comes into his mind is blurted out quite loudly no matter who is in earshot.

We all love Grandpa, but to those around him, I can’t help but see how much of a toll his constant care is taking on them. His wife, bless her heart, is one of the sweetest ladies I have ever met. She is a tiny little old lady who takes care of her husband as best as she can but the mental and physical stress he is putting her through is killing her.

And my father-in-law, who is the rock of the family and sole bread-winner, is looking more and more tattered every day with all the emergencies and daily duties of taking care of his dad. At this rate, I can see him having a nervous breakdown or worse and with a still full house at home, the youngest child being only seven, he is still sorely needed in the rest of his family’s life.

We all love both grandma and grandpa that live downstairs and cherish the moments when grandma comes up for her brief visits, and when grandpa joins us for a rare dinner together. The biggest positive I see from the current living situation is that my children get to spend a tiny bit of time with their great grandparents. That alone has brought much joy to everyone around the house.

I do recall visits to my great grandmother who lived in an elderly community in a nearby city. Those trips were an adventure and made visiting Grandma Great even more special, but it’s impossible for me to compare my memories with those my kids are making now.

When I grow old…

And as for me, when I’m old my wife and I have already decided that we would rather be in a rest home that’s close by family but with paid professionals that would be there to take care of me. I can’t imagine putting that kind of burden on my own kids, nor would I be ok with the mental consequences that having my children have to change my diaper and bath me would take on them or me. I would much rather have paid strangers take care of that, and retain a little dignity around those I love.

I do understand that a good rest home is also a financial burden and am doing things now to insure that burden does not fall on those I love.

I’m just a baby in the grand scheme of things. There are many things in life I have yet to experience and maybe when I’m a bit older,  I will have a completely different view on things than I do now. I know a decision like putting someone into a rest home or keeping them closer to family bears a huge weight and can’t be taken lightly, but I also think all parties and consequences of that decision should be considered.

Image by Sailing “Footprints: Real to Reel” (Ronn ashore)

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11 People have left comments on this post

» JT McGeeNo Gravatar said: { Feb 24, 2011 - 11:02:22 }

I like to joke with my mom and that me, my brother, and my sister are her 401k, IRA, and pension program. It’s always good for a laugh.

Like you, I definitely feel a certain amount of responsibility for taking care of my parents as they have taken care of me, but also doing my best to make sure my kids don’t have to eventually take care of me. These are the kinds of things that separate rich and poor–the ability to take of yourself and those who follow you.

While that doesn’t mean necessarily doing it myself with my own hands (I hope to have kids of my own some day!) I want to, at a minimum, pay others to take care of their needs. Whether that is by paying for a long-term disability policy for each of them, or what have you (I haven’t figured out the mechanics yet, it’s a long way off) I’m sure me and my siblings will be able to provide for my parents when they need it.

Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

I think that’s a common joke especially seeing the state of Social Security and retirement plans right now.

Spreading the financial and other duties of caring for your parents among siblings is a good point. My father-in-law has siblings that don’t live too far off and some have come to help out here and there, but I don’t think they fully understand how difficult caring for Grandpa has become and don’t see the need to do more than casually visit here and there.

» SquirrelersNo Gravatar said: { Feb 24, 2011 - 12:02:45 }

This is a topic that has been on my mind of late. Personally, I think my own family unit comes first. That’s just the way things work.

Really though, I sometimes question why it is that we all (or most of us) think this way. The reason is: our parents (for many of us) worked hard to raise us, give us good childhoods, provide for us, and prepare us to be adults. If they’re in need, I feel a responsibility to help them. The infinite amount of love for I have for my own young daughter is there because it’s just there – no strings attached. But it’s hard to imagine doing everything for her and then not getting help if I needed it.

The thing is, I really hope I never have to burden her. I want her life to be great first and foremost. I’d feel guilty to be a burden.

Honestly, on a separate note, I couldn’t imagine living with my inlaws on a daily basis. That would be like a 24:7 nails on a chalkboard level of irritation….and that’s now, before they’re too old! So, I have to be fair and can’t be hypocritical on this topic as a whole.

Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

It is difficult to be torn between old loyalties and new ones such as to your children. I agree, my family unit comes first but I still feel loyal to my parents and feel I owe them. On the other hand, I don’t feel my kids owe me anything at this point. I do what I do for them because I love them unconditionally. It’s tough to think of all angles here until I’m actually put in a situation that I have to make a decision about it I think.

Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

PS I LOVE my inlaws… (…..they’re watching us…. 🙂

sarcasm aside, there are certainly some traits about them, and my own family, that bug me but they are good people and if either mine or my wifes parents had to live with us (in the future, and we had the space) I’m sure we would find common ground and make it work 🙂

» krantcentsNo Gravatar said: { Feb 24, 2011 - 01:02:59 }

As a older (64 yrs old) person, I am not depending on my children for care, however I would like to be close enough that they would want to visit. My wife and I bought long term care insurance in 2009. We may have to move someday to a one story residence, but we prefer to remain independent. I would rather have help in my home to care for us versus going to a nursing home.

Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

Hmm I think I’d be perfectly fine living in a nice rest home, with a game room, cable, a piano, you know, things to do but professionals there 27/7 to take care of my needs.

I agree, living close to family, no matter how you’re living, is important.

» Barb FriedbergNo Gravatar said: { Mar 5, 2011 - 07:03:46 }

Hey jesse, Hubby and I are really clear about wanting to be in a “home” when the time comes!! No burden to the kids and cared for by professionals!

Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

What could be better, right? 🙂 aside from..being..young and healthy forever that is…hah

» RevancheNo Gravatar said: { Apr 5, 2011 - 06:04:46 }

Thanks for the link and carrying on the conversation.

Since we haven’t got kids yet, I don’t know if I’d actually want to live with them when our time comes around but objectively I’d much prefer to have my affairs sorted so that I didn’t have to.

Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

I guess only time will tell what happens as we age and our experiences shape our opinion.

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