Parenting The Parents

They say life is at its most difficult when you are hitting 50! You are usually a full-time parent or spouse and you are reaching the last decade or two of a hopefully well-established career.  Life should feel full if you are also in a place where you feel you have a good social life, can afford a nice holiday once in a while, and are getting to the milestones you set out for yourself when you were 20. Is there a problem then?

I have not lived with either my parents or my in-laws for longer than 6-8 weeks since I have been married. The idea intimidates me. I feel that while I happily sustain the arrangement over a finite period, my marriage would weigh down by the pressure of parental influence over the long term. I truly hope I am both wrong and paranoid. I must add that no parent has shown any interest in living with us either!

Couples that fall in this group that feel they need to start parenting the parents is ever increasing. Living oceans away from them never helps the situation. Discussions with friends and family living in the same moment always portray similar fears, yet so many times I feel that we don’t discuss the subject enough. It’s almost as if brushed under the carpet, it will stay hidden.

We look to our parents for support all the time. When we are young, they help educate us, support us through getting married, understand our grievances with spouses and in-laws, and even happily offer childcare when we need it. They encourage us through our careers and guide us through panic, so why are we afraid when it is our time to give back? Is the guilt and responsibility we feel warranted? When the septuagenarian now share opinions, we don’t necessarily have the patience or make the time to lend them our ear.  As we evolve, age and experiences have also brought us to that point where they need our opinions, ideas, and advice more than we need theirs, and the realisation always comes as a curveball to us as much as it does to them.

This role reversal, accompanied by our distance away from them, is usually a very solemn discussion with my husband. He has been suggesting in the last year that we need to think about and plan how we hope to deal with the parents aging, their travel, and care, while we continue to bring up two adolescent children miles away. We also then wonder what values we are inculcating in these kids, are we setting the “right” example when we don’t fully partake in the responsibility and care of our parents?

Speaking to a friend a while back about aging parents, marriage, and how we deal with these issues as a couple, she described her situation. She said her father was hitting 80, and unwell, and as a family, they may need to consider moving him to a care home with easy access for her mother and siblings. She said there was no dignity for him being cared for by one of his children. He would rather have someone young, energetic, and professional cleaning his bum than suffer the indignity of one of his children doing it!

Indian parents, who have experienced being carers for their parents and in-laws don’t quite see it the same way. They want to be surrounded by the love, care, and hustle and bustle of people in a household that keep them both young and involved in their home and they are far from wrong. Social pressures and a lack of good medical and care environments have never seen the care industry thrive in India. Help and care for those that can afford to have individual carers in their home has also not created a demand and market for care homes. The guilt of not looking after your parents personally is compounded by various family members throwing it in your face at regular intervals too, though I feel this is decreasing with time and understanding.

As a couple that has been married for close to two decades, can our marriage withstand the change of letting our parents back into our lives? If one set of parents requires help more than the other, is that unfair to the relevant spouse? Will the bickering over the new normal make the marriage uncomfortable? How will we deal with it, and surely our parents will have their own opinion and point of view. After all, the parents’ lives will see equal change, a loss of well-established independence and they will have to deal with the constant sound of our voices, something they are just not used to anymore.

Would my dad prefer someone young, energetic, and professional cleaning his bum when he can’t do so himself, I am quite sure the answer to that is YES, but how will he feel when summer arrives and he has no one to chit-chat with as he watches Wimbledon on TV.