Eldercare – a Burden or a Blessing


If you are old enough to be getting ready for the day when your parents can no longer care for themselves, you are old enough to remember the hit television series of the 1970s -- The Waltons.

That show depicted a time and a culture where our elders were not considered a burden to be borne by their adult children, but a blessing.  Even today, there are cultures across the world where extended families are still the norm.  The thought of elders who can no longer care for themselves as burdens simply does not exist.

What happened?  I do not have an easy answer but if you think I am overstating the case, think again.  Search the Internet for articles of different eldercare issues and you will find the underlying assumption of most is more about burdens than blessings.

We are told to start getting our homes ready and warned of the impact eldercare can have on our own financial lives.  We are advised to ensure that the burdens of eldercare do not affect our own health and well-being.  We read tips and techniques for finding residential facilities where the burden can be passed on to professionals.  We read of the need for families to select the most appropriate sibling to bear the eldercare burden with support from the remaining members.  Everything seems to be about the burdens.

The burden mentality affects our elders as well.  Reverse mortgages, retirement plans, and reverse mortgages are all pitched as means for the elderly to avoid becoming a burden to their children.  Living alone until the end has become a kind of “badge of pride” in our culture.

With all this emphasis on the burden of it all, is it any wonder it comes true?  If your parents believe they must avoid being a burden to you at all costs and somehow it doesn’t work out and they end up living with you, what then?  They have been programmed to believe they will be a burden and in far too many cases, that is exactly what happens.

Are there no blessings to be had here?  How did our forebears manage?  And what do those people in other cultures do where elders remain with their children to the end?  What do they know that we do not?

I am not naïve enough to believe such a shift to the practices of the past would be easy or even possible.  But I do believe attitude affects behavior in significant ways.  If your attitude and your parent’s attitude is that their care will be burdensome that will affect how both parties will act should that situation come to pass.

I also believe if you want to find the potential blessings to be had from taking care of your elders, you first have to look for them.    What’s more, you have to do it together.  It all begins with a conversation between adult children and their elderly parents about the future they might be able to create for themselves.

My brother and I tried to have that kind of conversation with our mother long before she died.  She could have easily moved in with either of us but when I think back to the kind of conversation we had, it was laced with references to how she wouldn’t be a burden.  We gave no thought to how she could be a blessing.  It would not have been easy but now that she is gone, I really do wish we had at least tried.