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What are the rules of helping our parents?

Updated on August 11, 2015

As adult children when we lose a parent, this can bring forth all of the emotions we have and usually at the most inopportune moment. This is especially true when we happen to be an only child.

The only child of biological parents has some extra emotion and, as well, when the parents are adoptive rather than biological, this can add double emotional level. Now we have the emotion of parents who have raised us and given us our training to go out into the world; while many times this is when biological parents come back into our lives, sometimes bringing more family than we have ever known. Baby Boomers are in the center of this setting. For the first time in history children were not seen as extra workers in the family business and our parents were in a state of control. There were medical ways to make sure we only had the number of children we could afford. This is the complete opposite of what had been the history of family. Children born in the 20’s and 30’ was as much a tool to keep the family in a state of survival as children of love. They were needed to help work the crops, raise the younger children and keep the home front in running order (mend the fences, wash the laundry, cook the meals, keep firewood chopped. cows milked and so much more).

If one of our parents died (which happen far more often than we would have seen in today’s world), another one would come along quickly, as the need of this parent was very necessary. Women were not expected and certainly not by society able to run a farm or business by themselves. Their expected role was as the bread maker and not the breadwinner. It was frequently thought women did not have the mind to track money or tally profit. Men were of course expected to be outside doing back breaking work to keep the family in food and shelter. If something happened to one of the parents a neighbor might take the smallest children in for a payment of wood for firewood or livestock or crops. When the parent still living found a person to marry, the smallest children would come home, many times to more siblings than those they had left, as the new parent is bringing their children to the table as well. When a farmer or worker married a much younger person it was many times a marriage of convenience for both families. A younger person can do far more work, while a person of the same age has extra baggage.

The one thing about siblings, half-siblings or cousins is there are more people to share the work and financial shortfall. The only child in today’s world trying to balance a professional life and parents in failing health has the workload of three adults. They are expected to manage their own life as they have been doing, while taking on the management of a learning curve for elderly parents. Although there are some management tools which may seem nice for those people in the same situation (such as making decision without having to debate with others regarding the decision) however if the single child is ask 95% of the time they will say if possible having siblings would be the road to take.

The only child part of caregiving can be a blessing or a curse, for most part, it is somewhere in between. Being an only child can provide a very stable foundation on which to build a good caregiving role. There are of course many reason for this, the largest seems to be having a more interactive role with the family. Children with siblings spend more time playing and building relationships within this role. Just an only child has time to listen (and do not ever think they aren’t) to the parental conversations regarding decisions being made for their grandparents. This is the perspective on which their parents have framed the decisions for their life. A great example is one in which an only child has heard repeatedly that one or both parents did not want anyone coming into their home to provide care. With the parents being this adamant about the decision, the child was able to make a quick decision for placement in a skilled nursing home. Today that same child will tell you he/she does not want to be in any other place than the home.

Cost has always been a question to answer in the first round of what to do. Many children (only children as well as those with siblings) are expecting to have an inheritance. And this can be the deciding factor with respect to placement. It is frequently the concern and placement for siblings (part of whom living close to their parents while others live a great distance. Another question at the top of the list in the 50’s and 60’s was who will be around to care for the gravesite. Today, this does not seem to even be a factor, much less a deciding one. The reason is very possibly the change in the role played by Cemetery Director. While in the 50’s and 60’s many gravesites were located in a county cemetery and as such was frequently allowed to grow up, while today this is big ($$) business. The purchase of a plot or niche can be costly, the container is still the most costly and depending on where geographically the person will be, there are more decisions. All of which will, if this is what an adult child or children are looking at, be more expensive. Compared to in the 50’s and 60’s more and more people are choosing cremation, with ashes scattered. This decision when possible is best answered by our family member, this is not possible solicit information from other friends and family

And as we look at each for the answers to the questions outlined in this article, one that needs to be accomplished and considered, if not done, is who will write the obituary. The best answer is for the person who is dying. In our world today, everyone is busy and rushed, things are forgotten or perhaps unknown to some family members, especially when the family is a blended one. Many years ago, in small towns the Funeral Director knew everyone in the town and they wrote this as a help to the family with one of the tasks. Today, however, we all move about, blend families and frequently our children have no idea what to put in an obituary.

This tells us no matter if we are one of three children or an only child, the job of caring for our parents and putting everything together for the passing of a parent is not a job not easily worked by one person. It can be done and depending how comfortable we feel about asking questions of longtime friends and possibly even other family members, this may provide the best insight into our parents we will ever have. It would seem the best way to handle this entire event (which will be an event no matter how many siblings there are) is to have dialog with the whole family being involved. Get the answers sooner rather than later, this is so much better than being at the helm of the boat without a rudder.


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    • MGWriter profile imageAUTHOR

      Marsha Caldwell 

      3 years ago from Western Washington State

      I am really enjoying your comments regarding this very important issue. Certainly there is little to be done without an open line of dialog. I enjoy your views and suggestions which will prove very helpful.

      Well written and provoking much thought.

      Thank you

    • Venkatachari M profile image

      Venkatachari M 

      3 years ago from Hyderabad, India

      Very much important topic chosen by you for discussing the real problems being faced by people and put some light on it.

      The modern lifestyles are so hectic and individualistic and most of us do not afford time in contemplating upon all these problems. Even, we may be afraid of thinking such things. And, when the actual time comes, we look to our senior family members or to those who have had some recent experience in such matters.

      It would be better if children participated in some of those events involving their grandparents or any other senior relatives or neighbours, so that they can understand and be able to cope with circumstances that can arise at later stages in their lives.


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