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A Child's Delimma

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Message Norma Sherry
I struggle with the notion of responsibility. Not just any responsibility, but the difficult ques-tion of what is expected when we need to care for our parents. I watch as many of my friends and acquaintances struggle with the decision of what's wrong and what's right.

Of course, if it were simple and just a decision over right versus wrong it would be easy. The problem is its never simple"and it's never easy.

For many of us, particularly those of us baby boomers, we grew up in extended families. When our grandparents became old and feeble and in need of care our parents took them in and they became part of the family. We had good role models. We saw what was considered "right". But, we also saw the results of having elderly grandparents in our homes and how it affected the lives of our parents - and of us.

So, here we are grownups ourselves and our parents are "elderly". For some of us our parents are now in need of our care. What are we to do? Unlike our parents before us, we have options. Assisted living facilities are everywhere, so too are daycare centers for seniors. There are facilities designed for Alzheimer's patients and there are nursing homes for the more infirm or physically ill parents. But the age-old question of responsibility still holds true.

Are we irresponsible children if we do not opt to care for our aging parents ourselves? Does it make us selfish if we want to live our lives free of the burden of caring for our parents? Does it make us a bad person? Is the child who decides the level of care too demanding or too awesome frowned upon by society? Is the child who places their parent or parents in a facility, albeit an excellent one thought to be a selfish, unappreciative child?

The answer is, of course, different for each of us, but the issues are the same. We ask our-selves the hard questions and we find ourselves looking deep inside searching for answers. Would my parents have put me someplace "lovely" if I were too much to care for? Would the criteria have been if I still wet my bed at twelve, or drooled at the dinner table, or perhaps spoke expletives in front of company? What if I asked the same question over and over again never seemingly hearing or understanding the answer? I ask myself, "What would have been my parent's breaking point?" Or would they have broken at all? Would they have considered me their "lot in life" and took what they were dealt?

Is it as simple as that? Are we, the children, forever beholden to our parents for birthing us and raising us? Should we take into consideration all that we feel was wrong in our upbringing? Or, are we supposed to rise above all that we conceived wrong and be the dutiful child? What is one to do?

This question is facing millions of us. As our parents are aging and living longer because modern medicine has prolonged lives, even unhealthy, undesirable lives, we, the children find ourselves faced with the demands of caring for our parents. In many cases, the rewards, or the blessings for doing so is immeasurable. Some of our parents are thankful that their children, or child, have opened their home and their families to them. Others, however, are less so. Some are incapable of feeling.

The experts don't have the answers. They're textbook smart, but when it comes to life and living it with love and compassion they're missing a beat. For them, it's cut and dry. "What works for you" is a common response. Elder care lawyers help put their financial affairs in order, but little more. Lawyers, well, the truth is some are bottom feeders others are dreams-come-true. Finding the latter over the former is a daunting task. The care facilities that are growing exponentially are shortsighted. The almighty dollar, and it takes a lot of them to house an elderly parent, even without dignity these days, colors their view.

So, if you're looking for help. There is none. The only answers are within you and your ability to deal or not to deal, to suffer or not to suffer, to squelch the sense of guilt or wallow in it. The decision for each of us is based on much more than who we are, who are parents were or remain to be or whether we have abundant financial resources or none to speak of. Sometimes love comes in many guises and sometimes love of one's self and one's family is an act of grace and self-preservation.

Today's life and the demands of family are different from the days of our parents and our grandparents. Children reside at home longer than they used to - and in many cases, return home after long leaving it because they are unable to afford to live on their own. We live in different times with different constraints and obligations. We may not labor as our parents did, but we work hard and our pennies seem to go less far. Our parents skimped and saved and readied themselves for that rainy day. We, on the other, hand, live for the moment, spend more than we make and fulfill our heart's desire as the desire arises. Perhaps this is what sets us apart from the generation that came before. Better or worse, it's who we've become.

So, once again, if you find yourself with the overwhelming decision of what to do, or what not to do with your aging parent or parents, the best advice one can offer is that the answer is within you - only you and no one else but you. Sometimes love is best served by not putting yourself in a position of resentment. Sometimes the answer is knowing who you are and your personal limitations. Sometimes the answer is for the betterment of your family and your children. The one thing that's certain is that no answer will be easy.

ę Norma Sherry 2006
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Norma Sherry is co-founder of, an organization devoted to educating, stimulating, and igniting personal responsibility particularly with regards to our diminishing civil liberties. She is also an award-winning (more...)
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