As my parents and their generation get older, I have been thinking a lot about what we owe our parents? Is it our responsibility to take care of them when they are old, as they did when we were young? Or was it their responsibility to plan for their old age? Is it our turn now to live our lives now, they had their turn? Do we not owe them a debt of gratitude for everything they did for us? For the many, many sacrifices they made when we were young?
When I was younger, the answer was simple to me (as most things were. With age comes wisdom and with wisdom comes the realization that very few things in life are simple. Are either a firm yes or a firm no. Life is not black and white, it is more than just 50 shades of grey, and I am not referring to the book of the same name). Anyway, as I was saying, when I was younger, the answer was simple to me: As children, we owed it to our parents to look after them when they were old. Our parents, my parents, had done so much for us when we were children. They gave up their time, money, bodies, life so that we may develop, grow and become successful. As adults, we are reaping the rewards of their blood, sweat and tears. Literally and figuratively.
But as I have gotten older, I have realized that it is not as simple as that. Not everyone has parents like mine - parents who were kind, loving, caring. Who gave as much as they could to their children. Who wisely invested their money and who saved for their retirement. Who, back then and even today, always had their children's best interests at heart. Who were and still are, decent, nice, caring human beings.
When I was younger, I used to hear stories about lonely old people in the old-age home and wonder "where are their children?? Why aren't their children visiting them?" But maybe those children are exhausted by that parent who was mean, nasty, manipulative, abusive? Who are tired of taking responsibility of a parent who didn't and won't take care of themselves?
As I have gotten older, I have met people who have parents unlike mine. Who have parents who have mistreated their children - in obvious and often less obvious ways. Who have been and still are horrible people. Selfish people. Nasty people. Who were assholes to their spouses and their children. Parents who still today manipulate and emotionally abuse their children. Parents who did not save for their retirement. Who were irresponsible about their finances. Who seem to have no regard for the fact that they might live to be older than they planned. (I know of one older woman who has planned that she lives until 75. She has money until she is 75 years old, with no thought to the fact that she might live to 76. Or 80.).
I have a friend who has a mother who is not a very nice person. Who emotionally abuses her daughter, even today. Who withholds affection as punishment. And yet who will need taking care of when she is even older. What does my friend owe her mother?
I have another friend who has in-laws who live beyond their means. Who have been extremely irresponsible about saving for their retirement. And who will become their daughter's responsibility when their expenses finally exceed their income. What does my friend owe his mother and father in law? Is it his responsibility to financially care for his in-laws?
Another friend whose mother has had extra marital affairs (which was extremely damaging to my friend), who has been a not-very-nice person her whole life and is now single and living in a room in someone else's house, wondering why her daughter won't allow her to stay with her and her family. Wondering outloud why her daughter wont have anything to do with her.
What about these parents? What should their children do if these parents come knocking at the door to say "I have nothing left, I have no money / no place to stay. I need your help." Do we let them in? Do we turn them away?
What do we owe the older parent who doesn't seem very deserving of much?
(Note: My biggest blessing and gift in life has been the upbringing my parents gave to me. I realize every day how fortunate I am to have parents like mine. I sincerely believe that the successes in my life today are because of what my parents gave me, materially and more importantly emotionally and psychologically when I was growing up. Love you mom and dad xx)
And now I have to dash to wake up the toddler. And remind him and his siblings that they better take care of their mama when she is older. Or else I will haunt them FOREVER!