I spent weeks upon weeks researching a variety of topics relating to caring for our elderly parents. As important as it is to lovingly take care for our elderly aging parents, it is also a daunting task at best. While researching the various aspects and responsibilities involved with caring for elderly parents, I was surprised to find little information regarding the care of elderly parents who, due to their own personalities and tendencies, make it extremely difficult if not impossible to have the parent living in your home.
There is a vast array of information, including message boards, that discuss in great detail the importance of providing all the necessary medical attention to our parents, being sure that their medications are being taken, in the right amounts, and at the right times.There’s also much information on giving our elderly parents our time and attention, involving them in a variety of activities in and out of the home, being sure to create and allow for opportunities where our parent can assist with a variety of tasks, whether it be helping prepare or cook a meal, picking up around the house, gardening, etc.
There is also no shortage of posts on message boards and blogs alike wherein writers are barraged with respondents comments about how “unloving, uncaring, unappreciative” some writers supposedly are when commenting on the difficulties they face while fulfilling their responsibilities towards elderly parents.
Caring for Elderly Parents is a Family Responsibility
We will all be old one day. We all will want and need our children to help us, care for us, love us, be attentive towards us, help with our “needs”, when the time comes that we are deemed an “elderly parent.” We all hope that our children will render us this needed love and care, putting aside any old hurts or slights of the past. Unfortunately, some people choose to hold onto old memories of previous hurts and perhaps even devastating traumas from childhood, choosing not to forgive and forget, but continuing to hold it against their parent/parents as an excuse to forfeit their responsibilities towards their now elderly parent.
Often this leaves most, if not all, the responsibilities on another sibling to carry the heavy and oftentimes burdensome load of providing care for their parents. Some even go so far as to move away so as to make it appear that they “just live too far away”, when in reality they never intended to help in the first place.
Young Children Can Help Too
Although I do believe that the adult children carry primary responsibility to care for their elderly parents, I also believe there is much to be accomplished with the assistance of grandchildren with respect to their age and abilities. Making it a point to keep in close contact with their grandparents, making regular phone calls and visits, sending cards if for no reason other than to say, “I love you” or “I’m thinking of you”.
There is an abundance of opinion on whether to have elderly parents living with you in your home or a nursing home. Although this is a personal decision for each family, carefully considering all possibilities, the pro’s and con’s of such a venture, sometimes it is determined not to be in the best interests of the family as a whole. It is of this perspective and opinion that I write today.
On two separate occasions, lasting about a year and a half each time, my husband and I and his father lived together. Initially, we all lived together in my father in-law’s house. The floor plan provided private quarters for us, our room and bathroom on the opposite side of the house from his. Being newlyweds that believe in the premise of leave and cleave, we needed some time to be alone, to become accustomed to each other’s ways, and to settle into married life. My mother in-law had passed away in 1998, three years prior to my meeting my now-husband, having been married over fifty years to my father in-law. It quickly became apparent that having much time alone with my husband would be virtually impossible.
Over a period of time, I began to refer to my husband and his father as “Siamese Twins”, attached at the hip by an invisible umbilical cord. Every step my husband took, my father in-law was in close pursuit. It mattered not if my husband were going from the living room to the front door, from the kitchen to the den, from outside the house to inside the house, to or from the car. “Everywhere that Mary went, Mary went, Mary went…., everywhere that Mary went, her sheep was sure to go.”
Doing For Themselves If Capable
My father in-law is a capable man. He is capable of fixing himself something to eat, even if just a sandwich. But, he won’t. He wants and expects someone/anyone, preferably my husband, to do it for him, as my mother in-law had done for the many years of their marriage. This attitude did not sit well with me or my husband, as we firmly believe that my father in-law should do for himself what he is capable of and not expect to be catered to the rest of his life.
The energy and exertion expelled to go to the pantry and retrieve cookies, brownies, Ding-Dong’s etc, is better used slapping two slices of bread together, with cold-cuts and cheese in between. To suggest such an absurd notion inevitably leads to a staring contest, followed by his quick exit with sugar-coated goodies stuffed into both hands.
Maintaining privacy was often a matter of discord, as we would return home from work to find “evidence” that someone had been in our bedroom. Items moved around in dresser drawers, desk drawers, files disrupted. After several attempts to resolve these bothersome problems, we decided to move and got our own apartment.
A few months later my father in-law sold his house, and reluctantly moved in with his daughter, the eldest of the two children. For several months, phone calls were exchanged between my husband and his sister, with her explaining the same behaviors and problems we found to be so unbearable. It was creating problems for her family and marriage, as it had done to us, and we understood all too well what she was dealing with.
Strain On Marriages and Biblical Requirements
A few months later, my father in-law privately begged my husband to allow him to move back in with us, our having just bought a house with rooms to spare. Thinking my husband had experienced temporary insanity at the mere suggestion, I made my displeasure and disagreement crystal clear. Perhaps it was the fierce expression on my face; or perhaps it was my sounding like a screaming banshee; or maybe the sound of a door slamming behind me. Nevertheless, we discussed it when my blood pressure returned to normal, and determined we would allow my father in-law to move in with us again, only with some firm stipulations.
It was to be understood that although he would be living with us in our house, that he was to lead his own life, come and go as he pleased, go and do things/visit with friends etc, fix himself something to eat when hungry (unless we were obviously already preparing a family meal), clean up after himself, do his own laundry etc. But, no more catering to his wants and whims.
Need I continue? Ask any of my friends, co-workers or family, and they will tell you that I am normally “cool and collected” or “even-keeled”. It takes a lot to make me blow my stack, but if pushed to that point, look out. It didn’t take long at all to find that the attitude and behaviors were not going to change, that my father in-law would not follow any of the stipulations set for him.
My husband and I actually began timing how many minutes it would take before my father in-law would appear wherever we were, trying to have a private conversation. Two minutes maximum. I began to search for our marriage decree, so I could look to see if someone had secretly added my father in-law’s name to the marriage document next my husband’s name.
I normally was the first person to get home after work, and within a few minutes, my father in-law was checking his watch and looking to see if I was about to begin rattling pans in the kitchen, since he “hadn’t eaten all day long”. After finishing dinner, while my husband and I began to clean up the kitchen and load the dishwasher, my father in-law would inevitably make his quick exit to ‘parts unknown’, or right back in front of the television where he’d been all day.
Maintaining Privacy and Independent Living
Any attempt on our part to retrieve the remote and switch channels (it was always on some sort of sports show), would be met with heavy sighs and protests “I was watching that!”. We were guests in our own house. We continued to find that “someone” was rummaging in dresser drawers, private files in the office, and various other intrepid explorations throughout the house.
My father in-law is now eighty-four years young, and for the last year or so he’s been living in an Independent Living apartment on his own, a few short miles from our house. We visit him often, have him over for dinner often, pick him up and take him out to dinner often, have him over to spend the night every couple of weeks, but it’s never enough.
We filled his freezer with healthy, frozen meals, that he only needs to nuke in the microwave for a few minutes. They are all still there in his freezer, left untouched to this day. We keep him supplied with bread, cold-cuts, cheese, fruit, healthy cereals, etc, a fully-stocked refrigerator. Healthy, fresh foods rot and sit waiting for “someone” to throw it out. He is fully capable, physically capable, mentally capable, of fixing himself healthy meals. But, he won’t. A few days ago, he told me that he wants my husband to move in with HIM. That isn’t happening.
(Photo by “Ratticus”)