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Feeling responsible for your elderly parents... is this right? - Carers UK Forum

Feeling responsible for your elderly parents... is this right?

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I am sorry if this appears to be controversial, but it is a subject that seems to rear its head a lot.

Why should we be responsible for our parents?

None of us asked to be born. I hate the burden of guilt. My parents have been responsible for many of the problems I have in life but to balance this they have also helped me in many ways. I am guessing that I am not unusual in having mixed feelings about this.

I am extremely resentful. It feels wrong that I should feel guilt and worry and my husband has been sucked into this too.
I myself feel there are many 'well, it depends'....in the general question 'Are we responsible for our elderly parents?'

The number one It Depends is, to my mind, what our relationship was like with them before they became infirm. I'm a great believer in 'we reap what we sow' and if parents have always been selfish and self-regarding, heaping ills upon their children, then no way should those children have to look after them. time for the parents to reap what they've sowed. A lot of this boils down, it seems, to those parents who have personality disorders, most obviously narcissistic personality disorders, as people with this do tend to be pretty damn toxic to others. The other 'big crime' is probably that of cruelty, whether physical, sexual, psychological or emotional. Some people, alas, who are, to be blunt about it 'psychopaths' are, nevertheless, also parents....

BUT, that said, the above does beg the question of WHY the parents are like that! (ie, eg PDs or psychopaths etc). We know so little about the causes of these phenomena, so it might be, for all my hoping it isn't (!) (as I believe in cosmic karma, which has to be morality based to have any justification!), that it simply is outwith any control by the parents to have PD or psychopathy. Maybe they are, in the end, victims too.

In which case, are they morally responsible for how they treat other people including their children? Do they possess the power to change their 'evil ways'??

We just don't know.

Then there are parents who 'unintentionally' cause damage to their children. (I'm sort of saying that the PDs and the psychos get some kind of 'sick kick' out of what they do, or benefit directly themselves in some malign way). I'd probably put my own mum in this category - she had MH, it caused her a lot of grief, and it caused her family a lot of grief too! But no one was really 'at fault'....

And then there are those parents who are, perhaps, simply 'thoughtless' - they lack the capacity, for whatever reason, of understanding that their behaviour and attitudes can be hurtful and toxic. Is that 'their fault' and should they receive 'bad karma' as a direct result of their shortcomings??

As you can see from all the above, in my own personal book THE most important factor in whether we should or shouldn't look after our parents to any degree at all is a moral one. And morality is always a bit of a minefield!
Morality really IS a minefield. I am changing my views every day. I know it's a cliche but the 'walk a mile in someone else's shoes' saying is a truism when circumstances change in life.

And yes, you do reap what you sow.
I am so glad i chose not to have children. This has reinforced it. At least i won't do this to someone else.
I think too, again only personally, that there is a kind of 'bigger morality' going on, taking place on a larger scale.

It's the morality of 'time' perhaps.

One of the things I've felt most strongly about caring and my MIL is that she is 92 with dementia and, in that respect, I do feel - repugnant as this may well be to many, and very understandably so (I'm pretty chary about it myself, even now!) - is that caring for her is a 'waste'.

My moral argument is that if I'm going to give up the next ten years of my life, then it ought to be in a 'worthwhile' cause. I don't think very very old people with advanced dementia meets that criterion. That is, as I say, a VERY controversial thing to say, but to my mind the imbalance between the COST to me (my next ten years) and the BENEFIT to the caree is SO mismatched that it simply is not warranted for me to give up ten years to look after someone who, sadly, has outlived their own life.

BUT, then, as I am the first to admit, I do not love my MIL. I like her, and I'm fond of her, and I'm desperately sorry for her, but really, had she died three years ago I think it would have been better for her....(and I'm pretty damn sure she'd think the same if she were capable of it!).

When I first joined this forum (when I was off my head just about with the pressures of having MIL living with me), I used the following analogy.

If years were money, and if every year of decade of life was worth £10,000, then at 90, my MIL would be deemed to 'have' £90,000. But I, being 60, would 'have' only £60,000.

Then, if MIL were to live another ten years to 100, those ten years would be worth another £10,000, brining her up to £100,000.

But if I were looking after her for ten years, I would 'lose' a decade of my life (ie, spent doing something I did not want to do, that were nothing but 'cost' to me as I could not do anything else in those years except devote myself to her), and that would 'cost' me £10,000.

SO, I would LOSE £10,000 and she would GAIN £10,000. I would 'end up' with only £50,000 of 'enjoyable life' by the time I was 70, whereas she would end up with £100,000 by the time she was 100!

For her to enjoy another ten years of 'happy life' (ie, being looked after by me) I would have to give up ten years of 'happy life' and have ten years of 'unhappy life' (ie, caring for her).

That did just not seem 'fair'.

She's 90, she's 'had' her life, but I'm only 60, and I haven't yet had mine. So my life is worth more now than hers is.....

This is, as I admit, a harsh, ruthless and highly controversial way of looking at it, but it's what hit me when I realised that my MIL needed looking after, and there was only ME.
Resentment is a very, very difficult emotion!

I guess one can feel resentment against someone's 'deliberate behaviour' (or behaviour they benefit from), and/or one can feel resentment against a situation that is no one's 'fault'.

I'm probably the latter. What I 'resented' so much about my MIL was nothing to do with her 'personally' (getting dementia was hardly her fault!), but only really my situation.

It boiled down to a 'rage against fate' - fate (or whatever) took my husband from me in his fifties, and then landed me with his mother-with-dementia 'in exchange'. So not only did I lose my husband, but I gained a 'burden' - and he wasn't around to share it with me!!

I used to think 'Isn't it bad enough being a widow without having my dead husband's mother to look after in her dementia/old age!'

Yet, as I emphasise, NONE of this was 'her fault' in the slightest, plus she herself has suffered the appalling agony of losing her son, AND being a long-term widow herself.

if there is any 'villain in the piece' then it is the dementia.....that, fundamentally, is the target of my 'rage'. And fat lot of use that is!!!!!!!

Bottom line: How selfish is too selfish????????
I think we are all selfish and really, is being 'selfish' in the terms that society tends to judge people, such a bad thing?

Think of the safety briefing on airline flights. You put your own oxygen mask on first before helping others.

I guess that religion and faith has an impact too. You have to ask yourself if you believe that there is an afterlife or if this is all you get. I am an atheist so I think it's the latter.
How selfish do you think your parents have been in their lives?

The trouble is, in my own situation, I really cannot accuse my MIL of anything 'selfish' at all! She's been a great MIL to me, and we've always got on very, very well. It really is only her dementia that is causing this huge problem for me. A KEY part of the problem for me is that because of the dementia, my MIL is 'disappearing'...and so it's a double double whammy. Not only has she had so much more 'life' than I have (90 to my 60), but the life she does have now is a 'shadow' of what she had when she was compos mentes. So I would be required to sacrifice YEARS of my life to keep a 'ghost' happy.....

It's the 'waste' I deplore - not just because she is so very old, but because she is 'disappearing' as well.

(That sounds SO cruel and heartless and vile - but it's what I feel, and I know I battle it. I just don't think a single individual, me, should be required to sacrifice SO MUCH to someone in such a condition and circumstance. I feel if I'm going to make such a sacrifice it should be for something far more 'worthwhile'......)(and how horrible is that??!)
Interesting analogy about the oxygen mask - BUT, I guess I should point out that the reason they say that is it's not a question of 'saving yourself first' but of enabling you to breathe so you can save others!

However, in that vein, 'moralists' are always posing the tricky question - if you could only save one person, who would it be?

Most of us would say outright 'save a child, not a very old person' or something along those lines. ie, that someone who has not yet had as much life as an old person should take primacy over an older person.

Maybe, if we use that 'spectrum', one might argue - if we see ourselves as a 'younger person' than our elderly parents, then we become the 'younger person' who should be 'saved' before the 'older person'. I'm back at the 'Mu life is worth more than my MIL's'.......

Not a pleasant mirror to hold up to oneself, but there it is!

PS - I agree with you re 'afterlife'. But I don't think it justifies 'excessive' sacrifice in this life, and it still doesn't really address the question of 'worthwhile' sacrifice. I'd like (VERY MUCH!) to think I'd 'automatically' give my life for my child's, but would I give it for, say, someone else's child (etc etc). There are certainly some people I'd never sacrifice myself for, and indeed, no one should (eg, Hitler etc etc)

I do think the issue of 'sacrifice' is very, very difficult.
I think, in the end, most of us agree mentally on a degree of compromise. We take 'some' responsibility, but not 'all' perhaps. It does depends so, so much on circumstances.

For example, with you, IF you could put your business affairs 'on hold' for say six months, and IF either of your parents only had six months left to live, would you consider getting involved in their care then, IF that is what they wanted?

What tends to make caring for our parents so hard is that we don't know how long it's going to be for, and it can turn out to be far longer than we initially thought, and that their care needs become far, far more extreme.

My MIL was pretty easy to care for initially - it just took up time, ie, living my days the way she liked (which was all she could do). If I weren't having to do that 'every day' I can honestly say it wouldn't have been a problem. She was perfectly 'easy' to be with, and those 'cosy days' she liked were not unpleasant of themselves - there were just an indefinite, non-stop number of them! (Ironically, I now look back on them with a degree of nostaligia, and it's so sad she will never have those kind of days again now.....)

But nearly three years on, with advanced dementia, it would be FAR more difficult - to the point of impossible for a single person I would say - as she now is highly sleepless at night, is very VERY cognitively impaired, and, worst of all from a family carer point of view, is doubly incontinent.

So, we embark on an unknown period of time, which could be a decade or more, during which care needs will escalate to a point we hardly envisage (or even know about!) when we start.

Maybe the overall lesson is that we need to make the most of our parents while we have them - IF our relationships with them is good in the first place. If not, ah well, that's up to each of us I guess.