So, as a sort of tag-on to the previous post, this is something else I’ve been thinking about. My starting point was this post in Apu’s World (which is a great blog that I just discovered) and more to the point, the comments section.
Many of the commenters, while I think sympathizing with the reader I think, proceeded to offer very “modern” advice on the lines of ‘don’t depend on your children’ and ‘go out and make friends and a life of your own’. Partly, this advice stemmed from the erroneous idea that the woman in question was 55 and not 78. But my point is that even if the woman was 55, I don’t agree entirely with the bulk of the commenters. And maybe because the commenters didn’t read the previous comment, they ended up repeating the same idea with the result being that there was very little acknowledgement of the woman’s sadness (and her right to be sad) and what she probably got from it all was – this is your somewhat your fault and you shouldn’t be expecting much from your children. That’s probably not what people meant exactly but if I was her and reading the same sort of thing over and over again, that’s what I might have taken away.
Now, I do acknowledge that it’s unwise (and probably unfair) for parents to build their whole lives around their children. Many in our parents’ generation are conscious of this and have developed their own friend circles and hobbies. The idea might not have been that common with a woman who is 78 though.
But my point is 55 of 78, hobbies and friends or not, children owe a basic responsibility to parents who have looked after them well. I have seen my fair share of destructive and selfish parents and in these cases, I’m not so clear though rather ironically such parents manage to have some sort of hold over their children.
I’m not saying that children owe it to be their parents to be their slaves once they’re old. But I’d think at least a weekly visit or telephone call, making festivals and birthdays special and helping them through difficult times, especially during medical emergencies, should be the minimum no? Most of our parents have gone beyond the call of duty to raise us, so even if we don’t have a close bond, how can we just wash our hands off them when they are the dependent ones?
I would go further and say that children need to actively look after their parents when the parents cannot look after themselves. Somehow, the idea of old age homes terrify me. When we were just entering adolescence and complaining incessantly about our grandmother, who was/is really a pain to live with, my mum finally suggested to my sister and me that if we really felt so badly about it, she would suggest to my grandmother to move to an elderly home. Our response was a unanimous no. I think we would’ve been happy to have our grandmother live with another relative, but with strangers was unthinkable. And, even at 12, I recognised that my grandmother was my mother’s mother and that just as I would not institutionalize my mother, my mother deserved the option of caring for her own mother.
My mum recently said that when she is old she would prefer to stay in an old age home and that there is a very nice one somewhere. I told her that I had not heard of any such ‘nice’ old age home in India, and generally in institutions, the powerless are treated horribly. My ideal scenario would be, in later life, parents live in apartment close to or adjoining one so that we can easily pop in and out but they have their independence. However, if health required it, they would have to live in the same house. I do understand that sometimes health conditions requires professional care in which case institutionalization might be the best option – though I also think people benefit from being around loved ones, so as much as possible should be cared for at home, especially in old age where many of the ailments are not solvable.
I also think that each child owes it to their own parents, and that means sons taking care of their parents not expecting their wives to do the bulk of the work. As a wife, I’d expect to be an enabler unless I felt some great affection for my in-laws.
It does become harder with kids often living far away from parents. But I think one sometimes has to make the hard choices. Either you find a way to bring your parents to you and you go to your parents. This is easier if there’s more than one child – I know it would be incredibly hard for my sister to move to India so I know I will do it when needed.
In part, I’m saying all this as a commitment of sorts, so when the difficult choices have to be made, I don’t shirk my responsibility.