By Steve Moran
For a number of years, I have read countless articles about how “unfair” it is that adult kids have to put time and energy into caring for aging parents or other loved ones. The arguments always seemed wrong, but I could never quite figure out why. This morning, I read a LinkedIn post, and it all came together as to why this is so wrong.
The worst part is that it is incredibly ageist. It suggests that caring for older people is not worth the sacrifice unless one is getting paid for it. Imagine being that older person and knowing that your child, the person you raised, who you fed and clothed, took on vacations, and educated was constantly resentful that they had to now care for you.
There really is an underlying … “you are not worth it,” “I would be better off if you were gone” message.
This is an apologist article defending the incredibly broken caregiving system we have in the United States. This system is expensive, unfair, and capricious. It is all but impossible to navigate to the advantage of those who need it most.
For essentially all of humanity, everyone accepted there was this certain cycle of life. We were born, and our parents cared for us. We went off and did our own thing, and as our parents grew older, we returned the favor, caring for them till they died. It was often hard and took sacrifice that is a part of life.
Often there was tension and frustration, but also great satisfaction in doing what needed to be done — and at some level a kind of certainty that in time, you would be that older person being cared for.
There are two things that have shifted. The first is that people are living longer, which is a good thing. The second is that many are living longer in poorer health, which makes this caregiving thing more difficult.
Can’t Do Everything
The media has fed us this narrative that we can do it all, have it all, and that when we reach that “do it all, have it all” state, we will have reached human nirvana. The problem is that no one can have it all and do it all. It is so easy to look at the Richard Bransons and JLos of the world and think, “They did it. Why not me?”
First, I promise that to get to where they are, they made lots of choices and sacrificed many things. I suspect that if you could sit and have honest conversations with them, you would find two things: Not all choices were really worth it, and they have moments, many moments, where they are not as happy as they think they should be.
In my personal life I know a number of people who seem to have perfect, have-it-all lives, but I have also found that the only people I know, without a single exception, who have perfect lives are the ones I don’t know very well. All my “perfect” friends have struggles and challenges and worries and unhappiness and on and on and on.
Even in our modern world, life is hard. It seems likely that all our modern inventions and conveniences have made life emotionally harder and not easier.
It All Comes Down to One Thing
It all comes down to one thing, and that is attitude. My mother, after a stroke, had greatly diminished capacity for more than two years. Part of that time she lived with her husband, part of the time with me, and she spent her final eight months in residential assisted living. After the stroke, caring for her and visiting her was never “fun.” She was mostly minimally responsive, but on occasion difficult.
But there was a certain joy in being there for all of that, since she was there for me for so much of my life. The same was true for my father, and I sat and held his hand as he took his last breaths.
Get all the help you can, and live your life to the fullest. But please don’t resent the old, who gave you life. They too were your age, and more soberingly, you will, sooner than you think, be their age.