What should you expect? Middle-aged children parenting parents
“A home without a grandmother is like an egg without salt. We could…save the ‘traditional family’ that everybody is so worried about if more couples took their aging parents to live them.” If social critic Florence King is accurate, then my childhood was a salty one! Grandma McGreal lived with us and I just had to slip through the back fence to reach Grandma Etsa. It was a lively combination, especially when I was sick. Grandma Etsa’s opinion on “spirits” leaned towards Proverbs 23:31, “it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder.” But Grandma McGreal treated my coughs with a wee bit of Irish whiskey in hot lemonade with honey! It was a childhood filled with loving laps and listening ears, but as an adult I realize that there were many behind-the-scenes negotiations.
Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt. (Colossians 4:6). In the United States, most older adults have living children, and two-thirds have a child living within 30 minutes. Gracious communication regarding the future relieves guilt and worry down the road. What expectations do the elderly parents have? What obligations are perceived by middle-aged children? Institutionalized programs, such as Social Security, have changed traditional patterns of elder care. Stress is reduced when family members discuss various options before any need arises. Emotional support from one’s children is a stronger need for many older adults than is a specific living arrangement.
Abimelech destroyed the city and scattered salt over it. (Judges 9:45). Too much salt leads to barren fields and, for some families, too much togetherness detracts from relationships. Ways of interacting can be remarkably stable and these patterns need to be considered when an older parent is unable to maintain a separate residence. Also, physical limitations influence decisions. A 62-year-old may long to care for his 85-year-old mother, but his own health may prevent him from doing so.
Elisha went out to the spring and threw salt into it, saying “This is what the Lord says: ‘I have healed this water.’” (2 Kings 2:20-21) God calls some families to form healing households that are life-giving to all generations. Daughters and daughters-in-law usually provide the physical care for infirm older parents, and it is important that middle-aged spouses are in agreement regarding this arrangement. Has the couple been eagerly awaiting time just for one another as the last child departs? Or would another adult provide stability in the midst of dual careers and busy adolescent children?
Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be a peace with each other. (Mark 9:50) Through prayer, frequent communication and emotional support, family members can remain peaceful in the decisions they make for the latter part of life.