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Parenting our parents
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by Dr. Cathleen McGreal

The brick ranch house across the street has a For Sale sign in the yard. My mom has always thought the house was charming on her visits to Michigan. I picture evenings together sharing dinner and a walk around the block. We’d go for casual lunches and plant flowers. If she faced an unexpected illness, I would be right here. Her grandchildren would pop in and out. It would be similar to my childhood, moved one generation up! The only fly in the ointment is that it is my fantasy! My mom’s friendship support system is firmly entrenched in another state. In fact, her De La Salle Youth Group, formed after World War II, is still meeting four times a year even though the “youth” are in their seventies and eighties! How do middle-aged adults understand their aging parents?

“It takes a heap of living in a house to make it home.”

These words were written by Edgar A. Guest, one of the poets laureate of Michigan, and describe the feelings of many older individuals. The images we see in the media often depict individuals moving to far-off retirement communities. Actually, it is more common to stay in the vicinity that one has called home; many want to live in the actual house in which they raised their families. The walls that held that heap of living now hold a heap of fond memories. Adult children worry about physical aspects of the house: narrow stairways or mold growing on cellar walls. Older parent may feel content in familiar surroundings. Friendships, church and community ties provide social supports that are highly valued.

Increasing dependency needs.

When asked about the positive aspects of growing older, many people say that it is great to have flexibility in terms of time and to be more independent. Becoming physically dependent on others for transportation is a major concern; giving up a driver’s license is a major blow. Also, parents are used to financial support flowing from them to their children and it can be difficult if fixed incomes mean that the situation reverses. When affection and sentiment characterize the relationship, rather than a sense of filial obligation, families can communicate effectively to determine how to reorganize to meet everyone’s needs. Often, families negotiate a series of decisions over time, taking into account changes in health and economic issues while continuing to provide emotional support.

Jesus calls us to care for our parents with gratitude. In old age we give them material and moral support as we are able. (CCC #2218) As Scripture tells us, “. . . whoever glorifies his mother is like one who lays up treasure. ...” (Sir 3:4)

Email questions and comments to: mcgreal@msu.edu