This morning I commented in a blog that I had never been to before and unfortunately forgot to link. There was a beautiful poem about aging and how the adult child should help the parent.
That isn’t usually practical anymore, and in many cases it can be depressing and more importantly dangerous to the parent, child or both, and other family members.
Dangerous? In the extreme: neglect and abuse–adult abuse is a big problem that is covered up. In the less extreme: if I live in a small three room apartment and my mom in a larger one in a place I don’t want to live, should I give up my life to live with her? Selfish, yes I am. My mom was older for her generation when I was born. I was in a place in my life, when she became part of the frail elderly, where I wanted to concentrate on me.
She didn’t want me to live with her anyway; she wanted to retain the last vestiages of independence.
By profession I’m a clinical social worker in gertiatrics, but first I was a daughter
My mom had macula degeneration to the limit. She went from being sometimes overly confident and gutsy to being dependent on my sister and me.
It was hard; there were times I wished, sometimes out loud but only to me, that a little dementia wouldn’t hurt her. Macula is a horrible thing because it doesn’t affect the mind itself; but can appear as if it does. Many people treated my mom as if she were demented when she was much sharper than them.
I walk and do everything fast; she couldn’t. Someday I will be old, I hope and won’t have a child to help me.
There were times that I felt her sucking the life out of me. But I knew how much she loved me, even if she was going to be ornery. That didn’t mean I could be patient much of the time.
In many ways she had been my best friend during my early adulthood, if you could call it that, more like the longest adolscence in history though I was totally self sufficent etc.
After she suddenly died four years ago, I was glad that I had been a horrible daughter in thought only.
My mom had been such a positive thinker, she thought cancer could be cured by laughter. Maybe it sometimes can be.
But even her positive thinking was tested. Because she was so cognitive, I did tell her my list of demands. I wanted to talk to my mother about life, literature, current events, anything but her wardrobe. I have limited patience for going over clothes; seeing what was dirty, what needed to be thrown out, what needed sewing. I never had that patience before. How could I develop it then?
I often wished she had moved to Florida like a normal mother and we could have hired a geriatric care agency. Though I have reservations about many of them.
She had money and the last year she consented to have an aide four hours a day five days a week. That changed everything and salvaged our relationship.
It made such a difference. Old age isn’t a time to save your money so that you could give it to your children. They will be too worn out, and will use it for their medical care.
My mom never held her money over our heads. Quite the contrary. She was always trying to give me some. I had money and wanted her to spend her money on herself. I do know families where kids do everything only because of the money that they think is going to come their way. Think again. A protracted illness can take it all.
I do know families where the parent went on SSI and Medicaid yet continued to live in a fancy apartment in New York and one in Florida. I used to think that was horrible, and in many ways still do. By giving all their assets to their children they were putting themselves at the child’s mercy. What if a new spouse talks the child into spending the money? Each case is different and while I shouldn’t have judged I sometimes found myself judging too much.
I do know that old age is a time when you should have somebody work the system for you, so that you can get every avaliable benefit. You deserve it. That’s where having kids is a good thing because they can work the system for you. If they don’t have the time or the ability they can help you find the resources.
Adult children can have their own problems; beginning with their own health and/or kids. It’s noble to want to help your parents; they gave you life, changed your diapers, brought you up.
Changing an adult’s diapers can be way different. There isn’t the feeling of having brought somebody into the world, and dreaming about her future. Modern medicines and medical treatments have helped people outlive their bodies. An adult child could conceivably caretake a parent from the time the daughter is 45-65. That’s a long expanse of productive years spent caring for somebody. I’m not saying that it can’t be done, or that all adult children don’t want to do this.
I am saying that there have to be other solutions. There are: my mom lived in a NORC (naturally occurring retirement community) which can be the best solution if the parent remains in good health, and if there are resources that can help when the parent begins to fail. In my mom’s case, they were just beginning services in her building. But there weren’t people to take her down to the lectures, concerts, and other events at night. So it was useless to her.
There are assisted living facilities and they could be a very good solution. But the person has to have money, usually much money, and as the person ages the level of care has to be increased. Many assisted living facilities seem to plan for dementia. There are apartment buildings for the frail elderly poor that are usually very hard to get into, and only work when the person can take care of him/herself.
Not all older adults do become demented; and people seem to misunderstand it. There are different kinds of dementia and I’m not about to go into them all or explain the differences.
As many of you know I can become passionate about a broken finger nail. But one thing that I become truly passionate about is the misunderstanding that very demented adults become babies again. They can have residual memories; they can have other emotions and feelings that no baby is capable of. In a sense it’s comforting to think of a demented adult as a baby. But it’s so different.
I don’t know what the solutions are. I know that many things have happened in this country in the eleven years one day since Newt Gingrich came riding into DC with his black horse and contract for America.
Somehow old age became all about financial planning. Which is fine if you have a great place to live and enough support to see you through your frailer days.
Adult families need to begin planning about the future as soon as the kids are out of college or working. Realistic planning that takes into account the fact that the child or parent might want to move 3,000 miles from each other.
No law states that an adult child has to be responsible for his parent. Many unresolved issues come back to the forefront during a parents older days; sibling rivalry comes back ten fold.
And what happens to the people who don’t have children or good support?
Middle age and mid old age show be times of empowerment, achievement and fun. Yes that’s an ideal.
The truth is that I don’t know what the solutions are. I really hate it when people propose pat solutions–like I raised you, now you take care of me. Did any parent really count the number of diapers that they changed? No they did it because it was their job as a parent and they did it out of love.
But it’s not always a child’s job to take care of their parent for any one of a thousand good reasons and a zillion “bad” ones. I know that I was judged to be a bad daughter by some of my mother’s friends. Which was funny because their kids weren’t milling about. Or they lived nearby and could drive over in fifteen minutes. I couldn’t do that.
It’s taken me four years to get to a place where I can remember my mother and not think about how she died. And when I do I remember that she died in her apartment which was her greatest wish, and that she thought I was a good daughter, and I’m beginning to realize how much I added to her last years, by keeping her intellectually stimulated, and laughing. Yes it makes me feel pleased that I could make my mom laugh.
I have to admit that this is a subject I don’t like thinking about. Like most people of my generation I plan on staying young and healthy as long as I can. But as I am single, and somewhat knowledgable about this subject, I have to begin planning.
Actually I began planning eight years ago this coming Saturday when I bought my apartment. It’s in a great location for people of all ages–and I never want to live in a community of all people my age. The apartment has two bathrooms; I thought having one in the bedroom would be good for later.
But I’m younger than that now. My mother died; I don’t feel tied to New York anymore. I know how precious life is and what a gift good health is. I want to experience things I couldn’t in the 90’s because there was always the “mommy’ problem.
I became a geriatric social worker because I wanted to help find innovative solutions to living a full life while old and maybe very frail. I see challenges on the Internet all the time. I have never “issued” one, but there’s always a first time.
Do you think that children should be legally or ethically required to help their parents? How do you envision your parents living when they’re very old? How do you envision yourself living?
What kind of housing do you think will work?
Oh I know that you don’t have the answers. None of us do. As a society we have to start debating this now, because I think the first baby boomers turn 60 in less than five years. Which isn’t very old anymore; nor is 70 or 75 usually. But some people smoke three packs of cigarettes a day, eat and drink everything wrong and live full lives up to age 90 or more. Others do everything right and become debilated at 65.
Old age can be a time of great happiness and productivity. But sometimes people require much support to fufuill Erik Erickson’s eighth and final step in life–integrity vs despair where old age ideally becomes a time of reflection and continued vitality.
Let us please be realistic about this, to an extreme, and think of each older person as an individual, and the possible scenarios that would happen if so and so weren’t around to help them.
Because in the end we only have ourselves. Because as much as we want to remain connected to a community, and that could be anything from family and friends, to a virtual community, to a real one, there is only one person that we can rely on. And even we can fail ourselves.
And I promise to try to not be so gloomy anymore. My broken toe, which isn’t as tragic as a broken fingernail most of the time, has had me thinking