Dear Francine, My parents have read or are reading your book, They're Your Parents Too! I am concerned that as they become less independent, they will ask me or my sister to care for them. Here's the rub... Any contact (email, phone, but especially in-person (which is rare)) is both physically and mentally painful for my sister and myself. Both my sister and myself have made it clear to them that neither of us will be caring for my mother. Their life choices have resulted in destitution in their "golden years" and they are not able to pay for private care. My father has repeatedly spoken of his role as a buffer between her and us. His "plan" has always been to outlive her (even at one point making a suicide pact). Unfortunately for all concerned, he continues to have more serious health problems and will probably die before my mother. While I would care for my father alone, I have little connection with my mother and do not feel any obligation to help her now or in the future.
Can you revise your next book (or blog) to include topics such as:
* How to change your phone numbers so your parents can't find you
* How to ease parents into being wards of the state
* Reflecting on your life choices that have led you to the point of being alone
* What states have assisted suicide laws
* How to contact Dr Jack Kevorkian
Maybe a title for a new book could be "They're Not Your Parents Anymore" (or alternately, "They're Not Your Kids Anymore").
I am, most seriously (going to hell), Brian
Dear Brian, What a refreshingly honest letter. There are more people who feel this way than will say so out loud. They usually feel “guilty” for having such “bad” feelings. I think that being realistic about your family and your relationships is a much better way to deal with the challenges of your parents’ aging.
But that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook! Before the advent of social security, there were very few old people, and most of them were poor. Their children were not only expected by society to take care of them, but many states had laws requiring adult children to support indigent elderly parents. Some still have these laws on the books, and there is talk at least of enforcing them again!
Right now, you are imagining what you will feel if your mother is left on her own. You may never like your mother or want to spend time with her, but, if she is suffering and alone, you may be surprised by the complexity of your feelings. Compassion may be one ingredient. Or you may find yourself asking yourself, “What’s right for me to do to order to feel okay about myself as a person?”
That doesn’t mean that you have to do what your mother wants you to do, but you might consult with someone from your local area agency on aging (or a geriatric care manager or eldercare attorney)—while keeping a comfortable distance from your mother—to figure out some strategy so that she doesn’t die alone in a ditch by the side of the road. Whatever you say, I don’t think you’d feel good about yourself if an equivalent scenario ensued.
Although I wrote my book! primarily for adult children, some elderly parents have also read it. Other have come to hear me speak. The wisest have gained insights into how the arrangements they make (for their care, money, etc.) can affect their children positively or negatively. But a few have focused on just the sections that enforce their own positions and are using it to bludgeon their kids into feeling guilty. As they say, even the devil can quote scripture. If you read the book yourself, you will find in Chapter Two (“Acknowledging Our Parents’ Aging”) a story about a man named Larry who felt pretty much as you do about “MOM.” Here’s a brief passage:
“Something in her age and aloneness moved this polished player with a caustic wit. “I have a responsibility,” he told me. “I don’t know what it is, but I have it. I have a fifty-six year history with this woman. And,” he added significantly, “I no longer need her approval.”
So I recommend you “steal this book” (mine, not Abbie Hoffman’s) from your mother, and, in addition, you might want to check out a book by Jacqueline Marcell: Elder Rage, or Take My Father... Please!: How to Survive Caring for Aging Parents. On the other hand, this author did choose to care for her parent; you might choose to flee to another jurisdiction—without extradition.