When I was younger, I had an image of what my later years would look like. I thought I would be married with kids and grandkids, living in a nice house out in the country. And other than all of that, I had it exactly right. Instead of married, I’m divorced. Instead of kids of my own, I adopt my students for nine months at a time. At least I don’t have to pay their way through college. And instead of living in my own house in the woods, I’ve moved back in with my parents. I thought at first that this would just be temporary, that I would move back out as soon as I got my financial feet under me. Again, I’ve found that my plans aren’t working out as I expected.
It isn’t that I can’t afford to move out. I’m probably in the best financial shape of my entire adult life. It’s that my parents are getting to the point in their lives that they are starting to need someone to help them with things. Though they are both quite vital just on the north side of 80, they aren’t capable of doing all the things they could once do and I finally decided that it was probably the smartest thing to just stay here.
Yes, it is nice to live here rent free (they refuse to take it and I had to fight to get them to accept money for groceries—that’s my parents), but the reality is that it’s not just about me. Dad is still active, golfing regularly and doing most of his yard work, but I’ve started doing much of the push-mowing and weed cutting for him while he does the riding half. I see a day, I hope years from now, when I take it all over. What I really don’t want to contemplate is the year my dad is too old to maintain his garden. We’re a gardening family and I see the day that ends for my dad as the day he’s given up on life. So I plan to pitch in on that this year as well.
With mom, the balance is a little more precarious. Dad doesn’t hesitate to take the help. He used to make me mow the grass back in the day anyway, so letting me do some of the chores seems like a natural fit. But Mom is a traditional stay-at-home housewife. She sees it as her job to do the domestic chores and she feels like anything less than having a meal on the table for everyone who is home and having the laundry washed, dried, and folded twice a week is shirking her responsibilities. And when I offer to cook or just make myself a sandwich or do the laundry for her, she doesn’t just refuse. She reminds me that it’s her job and I should stop asking her not to do her job. So instead of helping her, I deal with the guilt of contemplating that I’m actually increasing her workload. I have a hard time getting her to see that the point of my staying is to ease her burden, not make it worse. But I fear she sees accepting help is giving in to being old. If she denies it, it isn’t true.
That’s not to say she’s delusional. She knows she’s getting older. But I can see that it scares her. Heck, it scares me too. The most frightening part for all of us is that her memory is fading. It’s gradual and isn’t debilitating yet and it doesn’t appear to be anything more than the normal result of having lived a pretty long life, but still, it’s daunting. So I spend a lot my time going behind her shutting cabinets so she won’t bang her head and turning off the oven after dinner and just surreptitiously keeping an eye on her all the time I’m home.
At the moment, I’m an adult child living at home with my parents. The reality is that they probably could get along if I moved out as long as I didn’t move far. But the amount I am doing for them has made it clear that the time is coming, probably sooner than any of us want to admit, that I will need to be here full-time, so moving out and setting up a household of my own would be pointless.
Am I putting my plans aside? No. I’m just acknowledging that those plans didn’t take into account that, as we age, the burden of caretaking naturally shifts from parent to children. And I could live on my own, stopping by their house daily to see if there’s anything that needs done, but this is just cutting out the interim step. So I see it as making my plans fit the realities of life.