I once knew a cardiologist who said he could always tell the functional from the dysfunctional families as he consulted with the adult children about their parent(s). If it was a serious situation, the functional families would keep mom or dad from suffering any pain. However, the dysfunctional families would fly in from all over and insist to “Save Mom (or Dad) at all costs!”
Now, I don’t know that I necessarily agree with this theory. Obviously, we all want to have our parents with us forever, or as long as possible. I can understand the point. We love our parents, but as they grow older, we don’t know exactly how to handle these intense situations.
Yet, when I first started in the retirement business, I remember a mentor of mine who said, “We raised a generation of brats.” Wait a minute – I am one of those brats! But I understand her point.
In fact, I always claim to be a product of a “throw-away” generation. We started with simple things, such as throw-away film. Then, it moved to disposable cameras, and ultimately ended up with “I’m giving up on this marriage.”
The same thinking occurs today. Last week, my husband talked to someone in India about our color printer. It was burning through black ink daily. Over the phone, the representative was able to determine that the printer was not fixable, which lead to the sale of a new one. A couple of days later, the new printer arrived. We then basically “threw away” the old device (by donating it to a church – as if they can get the ink to fix itself). There we are again – the Throw-Away Generation.
Having more than 20 years of senior housing experience, I have come to believe in the ways of the Greatest Generation. These folks went through the War, hanging in there and sticking it out during rough times. They also raised us, a generation of independent thinkers, and they wanted it that way. I have my own theory. As the parents age, either the kids take over and become the parent, or they remain kids forever, and Mom and Dad are Mom and Dad forever. It is family dynamics that come in all variations. In some families, as you can imagine, there may be every mathematical combination: some parents in denial of becoming older; some parents in a needy condition’ some kids in denial that their parents are getting older; and some kids in total “take-over” mode.
Let’s examine this closer. Believe me, it is a sad day when the kids figure out they have to take over for their parents. It is a bitter pill to take when it comes to the juxtaposition of roles, and sometimes, the kids wait too long.
One woman brought her father to me while the mother was in the hospital recovering from broken bones caused by a car accident. Dad was driving, and as we discussed it, the daughter said to him that he really shouldn’t drive anymore. However, he resisted – not allowing her to take away the keys. It’s hard on everyone, but it is true. At some point, our kids are more alert, more agile and smarter than us. We should listen to them when they show concern. They truly love us.
With these families, the parent(s) may say to me that “my kids wish for me to choose a retirement community, as they are worried and don’t want me to be a burden on their lives.” In this father’s case, the parent might also say to me that the kids are worried about me, and they are crazy, I am fine. There is a sense of pride that comes from parenthood.
That same pride creeps over to the feeling that we can still “do it all.” “Don’t worry about me (us), we are doing great!” “Yes, we will come for weddings, graduations, baptisms, birthdays, etc. No problem to travel. Yes, come stay with us. Of course, we will still host Thanksgiving for 20.”
Our children, no matter the age, rely on us to continue to be who we always have been. I actually had a grown man say to me he did not want this mother to move out of his childhood home, and the memories that he experienced over the years. She ended up staying in that huge house. This was fine with her, as we all know, moving is tough. We all love our homes, even when they are too much for us, and we could benefit from the sociability of a community.
In this case, she said that if he told her to move, she would. However, he could not see her needs above his own. Incidentally, I also have witnessed numerous children who have been marvelous with their parents by helping them maneuver their way through the maze of retirement options.
Over the years, however, I have met many women who do not move to a retirement community because they are unable able to “give up their guest room.” When we look closely, they usually have guests for a few weeks each year, at best. Yet, for the other 340 or so days, they shop for food for one, cook for one, eat alone most nights and could really benefit from a retirement community with delicious dinners, good friends and on-going activities. The most important benefit from this choice – someone is around 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year if there is a health challenge, even in the middle of the night. No one is alone.
In perspective, the guest room is not that important. Plus, guests can stay in their apartment or even reserve a guest suite down the hall. Sounds easy, right? What about hosting Thanksgiving? Easy again – just make a reservation in the dining room. No cooking, just laughing and enjoying time together.
Sometimes it is the perception of independence to say, “I hosted 20 for Thanksgiving.” Or maybe it is the perception for our kids to think we are not getting older when they say, “We are going to Mom and Dad’s.” In my mind, that is a total injustice. Life should be easy.
True, we all age differently. Yes, we all react to change differently. Yes, we all show our emotions differently. And yes, we do not want to be a burden on our children. But, we should make a plan for aging gracefully. Our kids should be allowed to take over some of these tasks, allowing us to pass the baton. Move out of the house. Consider a community with services, relaxing with friends and having the peace of mind of knowing – we did it right!