Is it the children's responsibility to take care of their elder parent? - AgingCare.com

Is it the children's responsibility to take care of their elder parent?

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My husband and I have been having this fight for the last three years. His elderly father can't take care of himself yet wants to stay in his home. He can afford to hire live-in help but won't because he wants to leave the money to his grandchildren. Therefore, he expects his adult children to take care of him. All of them work and have their own families. They all take turns bringing him dinner one night a week and the unmarried son moved in with him several months ago. The son now has a girlfriend and wants to be with her over the weekend. The other children decided that when the live-in son decides to leave someone will stay with the Dad over the weekend. I resent my husband because I don't think it's his responsibility to be his father's caretaker and he does. Thanks in advance for any insight you can provide.

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I think a lot of the difficulty we're having now is because we are in a transition period. Our parents came up in a time when a serious stroke or heart attack was lethal. People generally died when they were 60-80 years old. Many of our parents probably never helped care for an aging parent, and if they did, it was not for too long. Now people can live 10-20 years in terrible health. Half of adults live until they are 80 and a third live into their 90s. Dementia is so common in people past 80, so they can't live alone.

When our parents was growing up it was often assumed children would care for them when they got old. The children, particularly the daughters, owed it to them. Why, I don't know. The thing now is that caregiving can go on more than 10 years and totally rob the caregiving child of her own retirement.

Does a child owe their parent this significant chunk of their own life? Of course not. But you can't convince the parent of this, because the parent is focused on their own comfort and security. It is not really that they want to save the money for the grandchildren. They don't want to leave their home and change their lives. If there are many grandchildren, the amount of money divided up wouldn't amount to much unless the elder was very wealthy.

I do think that now life is longer that children should help to make sure the parent is safe in a good community. 3% of adults live to 100 now, so when we think of caregiving we have to consider the number of years. I've been with my mother 8 years -- 12.5% of my life as a caregiver and counting. Personally I can't imagine how a parent would ever ask this of a child.
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Reply to JessieBelle
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JanetPH, my parents were the same way when it came to hiring caregivers, they didn't want to give up one dime, it was being saved for me. I even told my parents to use the money as they may outlive me !!

This was long before I knew about these forums here, and that I could set boundaries. What I was doing was enabling my parents to keep up their life style while I had to change mine. Thus, I did start to cut back on what I was doing as I was employed full-time, and getting up in age myself. My parents still viewed me as the "kid", someone with a lot of energy.... nope that ship sailed a few years ago.
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Reply to freqflyer
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Yes and no. I don't think kids should alter their lives to the point they HAVE no lives in order to make sure their parents are "cared for". Each family dynamic is SO DIFFERENT! In families where it works like clockwork that one family member has responsibility for one day only and it's just the one day--OK, that can work. But so often, we hear the sob story (mine included) where initially everyone is willing to "kick in" some time, and after a while, it's obvious that one or two of the family are doing 99% of the care.

My daughter has an elderly man as her neighbor. He lost his wife 3 years ago. His kids have been beyond amazing. One is there everyday for several hours, and he doesn't go a single day without hearing from or seeing each child (they're all in their 60's, but still). He actually gets a little tired from constant outings and stuff, but is too sweet to tell them he's wearing out (he's 91). They have maintained that for the 3 years and it is going well.

They are NOT the rule--more, I see one person handling ALL of the problems of an aging parent. And the anger and resentment that comes. My own family is fractured beyond repair, as 3 of my sibs are MIA & want nothing to do with mother's care. Initially, it was to be split up so no one got overwhelmed.

I think it IS our responsibility to make sure our elders are safe, cared for and in comfortable surroundings. I do NOT think it's our job to run and fetch and wear ourselves out for their comfort. A fine line and only you can answer as to what is right for your family member.
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Reply to Midkid58
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JessieBelle you made some interesting comments. I believe we do not "owe" our lives to our parents, but rather our respect in most cases. But try to convince them of that. In the "old" days, and generally speaking, most wives did not work so it was assumed the aging parent would move in with the children and the "wife" would take care of them. But things have changed. We are working career women, we are raising our own families (even grown children that need help), and yes the elders are living older as we age with ailments as well. Someone here said something that hit home and I use it now..When our parents raised us they were in their 20's/30's...healthy with energy! Lifting a 150lb adult is not easy when you are in your 50's/60's. Aging parents today have more services available to them and more money (in most cases). But their mind set is still back in time. The common thread I see here often is the "guilt" factor. Mom is in a good Independent Living apartment, well taken care of and people that want to be her friend, even though she refuses to join in activities or go to the dinning room and now has her meals brought to her. I need to let her be to learn to socialize (good advice I got here recently) with the other residents - who are lovely by the way. She's angry with me that I am not there 24/7 - but I call her every day, take her out once or twice a week and go the the bank/doctor/accountant with her when need be. Bring her plants for her balcony etc. But I'm still not a good enough daughter...I've let the guilt go, will never move her into my home but keep an eye on her and when her current dementia gets to the stage that she needs Assisted Living, I will make arrangements. On an interesting note, neither of my parents ever helped care-give for their own parents. They left it up to the other siblings.
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Reply to wagonwheel61
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I read a quote the other day. "Always strive to give your spouse your best; not what's left over after you give your best to everyone else." I think we sometimes forget this as caregivers to our children, parents and grandchildren. I wonder how many marriages are destroyed because of caregiving.
I don't think it's fair to EXPECT our children to care for us in our old age, especially when we can afford to pay for it. Bringing dinner one night a week is nice. Spending weekends for who knows how many years is more than I would agree to. Maybe occasionally but not on an expected schedule. How many siblings are there? Chances are, even if they begin this schedule they'll start to realize how difficult it is and how much time it takes away from their families. Especially as the father's needs increase.
The good news is that your husband is looking at this as HIS responsibility to look after his father and not as YOUR responsibility to take care of him.
Good luck with this!
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Reply to sue888
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No. We have no obligation to care for our parents. It is certainly great for those who can and choose to spend time -- but not out of guilt or because its obligatory.

If parent has the means to hire in care and assistance -- then they should do so. Unfortunately, I don't think parents understand today's world and how busy families are with their own children, work, and often being long distance and not living nearby or in same household with elder.

If you continue to provide these "prop ups" by someone living with FIL, providing meals, and stayovers -- they won't ever get hired help and as they age, it just gets worse and more skilled care is required.

Have a family meeting and decide what everyone is willing and wants to do. Fill in the gaps with references & costs for hired in help (grocery shopping, cleaning, meal prep, monitoring dad). Take the plan to dad and discuss with dad. Tell him the family can no longer continue as they have and hired help will start X day for 4 hours daily or whatever you decide. Stick with the plan whether dad tries to fire them or not.

Tell him if he isn't open to part time help, then the next step is assisted living at X dollars. Explain to him that this is how family wants him to invest his money; not saving for grandchildren or tell him he can gift $1000/child annually if he likes while he spends his own money on his own care.
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Reply to Sunflo
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Janet, you have asked a very complicated question. I guess the answer is "it depends". First point - was the relationship a good one through the years - did father-in-law help his kids and grandkids through the years? Was there a positive and loving relationship that built an expectation of "we'll help each other"? Was it dysfunctional - where the parent was a narcissistic old patoot that expects everyone else to make things happen for him at no cost so that he can be the hero to grandchildren? If FIL (father-in-law) ends up in nursing home on Medicaid, the money he has so carefully saved by using adult children to provide care will be spent down anyway without it ever being available for helping adult children or grandchildren. Maybe the grandchildren he wants to help could be paid to be caregivers? Or the adult children paid with a Medicaid compliant contract to be caregivers and the money put into a savings account for the grandkids? Is the care actually being provided by your husband or is the expectation that "the wife" will provide the hands-on care - do you worry that the FIL will be moved in with you whether you want it or not. Does your husband's family have a history of hands-on caregiving at home? I understand your concerns. My in-laws moved closer to my husband and his brother and we had a poor relationship. Now they don't understand why I'm not rushing 100 miles round trip to provide cleaning help and meals. Would you expect your husband to help if it was your parents or does your extended family not require that level of care? If it's a problem for you now with shared help and only 1-2 days per week, start talking because it's only going to get more intensive and needy later....
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Reply to Guestshopadmin
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Sue888 says, "Always strive to give your spouse your best; not what's left over after you give your best to everyone else." I think we sometimes forget this as caregivers"

I find this comment interesting... What about the non-caregiving spouse giving their best to their spouse?

I do not fill "obligated" to care for my mom... It is love and respect that drives me to care for her. I am blessed with a husband that totally supports this. We cared for his father, in our home, over 20 years ago when he had congestive heart failure. We care for his mother too although at this time she doesn't require the level of help my mom does. I have 5 adult children and am blessed that they help out too, with the support and understanding of their spouses. It is not expected of them, they simply volunteer when they see a need. That is what family is all about.

The quote I remember is, " one mother can care for 10 children, but 10 children can't care for one mother." I think that is a sad statement.
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Reply to Grammyteacher
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Lots of good points made here.

If you had a mommie or/or daddy dearest, ruined you life and theirs, walk away and don't look back.

Decent parents are at least owed supervision and management of elder care. And of course there's a wide spectrum of cases in between horrible and wonderful parents.

My folks drive me nuts with the inheritance argument. They're stuck in a 1950s mindset and can't imagine that basic facility care can be 5 or 6 K per month. They have this idea that they're just going to die peacefully during Judge Judy someday in the far, distant future.

So meanwhile they refuse in home help and won't hear of moving to assisted living. I do what I can, take care of finances etc., but I'm not going to enable their fantasy of no outside help by running myself ragged and sacrificing my life.

I remember very well many years ago when mom and dad moved my grandmother in.  One week did em in.  Off to the nursing home she went.
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Reply to Windyridge
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I was just thinking of some of the typical things an adult child hears. When they are not providing hands-on care, it is, "A good daughter would keep her parents at home and not one of those dreadful places."

When a person is caregiving in the home, but vents something bad about her parent, it is, "You need to be more respectful of your parent. Honor thy father and thy mother."

Then if the parent is abusing the caregiving child, it is, "It is just they don't feel good. They're old and you need to learn about caregiving older people."

Then finally you get sick and it is, "I don't know why you didn't put them in a nursing home."

This is all written halfway as a joke, but we do hear these things A LOT. I've really come to believe that you can't please anyone but yourself. When it comes to caregiving, almost no one is going to be hapyy with you. None of the above statements really bother me. I still do choke on the "You owe them because they changed your diaper" statement. That is the dumbest statement on record.
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