Thursday, February 3, 2011

Stuck in the middle with you

Image courtesy of Josh Harper.
Used under a Creative Commons License.
I am one of many, an adult child with adult children (actually step-children, but they still count). I know I am lucky, many people don't have these kinds of connections, but as my parents age the caretaking responsibilities are shifting. It's a complicated thing.

(I need to stop here and address two readers in particular: Mom and Dad, if you're reading this, what I'm writing about doesn't mean you should change anything. It's my honor and duty to care for you and fret about you as needed. It is different and challenging, but I'm your daughter and I love you.)

(There are some realities associated with a blog your parents read.)

Okay, back to the topic at hand. My stepkids are more or less launched. They have their own lives and are finding their way through the world, one lurching step at a time. I think they all know that their parents and I are still here for them, but they are figuring out their lives on their own; they don't need us anywhere near as much. I'm terrifically proud of all of them. This doesn't mean I've stopped worrying about them or caring for them as needed, it just means the intimacy of care has changed.

Just as I exhale, the kids will be okay, the need for care shifts. My parents are aging. They need me more. I am their only child so I feel an appropriate obligation to be available to them, to help as I can. This is complicated by the facts that I live hundreds of miles away and we have all of the usual baggage parents and children can carry.

As my parents need more care I have become intimately familiar with each sign on the Garden State Parkway. I keep my iPod full of interesting things to listen to at any moment. My car is never below half a tank.

It isn't the increased travel I find challenging, but learning this new territory in our relationship. What is the line between care and interfering? When one parent is ill, how do I support the healthy parent without alienating them? How do I ask the difficult questions that might highlight the things they can no longer do so easily? How do I ensure both parents know they are loved, even if I'm hundred of miles away? How do I care for myself in the midst of this? What are the lines between increased care and helping them maintain their independence, between being present when they need me and still continuing my life? What happens next?

I know none of these questions are unique to me, they are merely unique in how they are expressed in my family, as each family has its own language and politics. I know many of you struggle with similar issues.

It also raises the question of who will care for me when I'm old. My step-kids have their own lives, in-laws and parents, I don't think it's reasonable for me to expect them to guide me through my old age. The state system for the aged is unlikely to be much of a safety net by the time I'm in my 70s. Several childless friends and I have sworn to care for each other as we age; honestly, I expect we'll see more intentional communities of elders in the coming years. It gives me comfort to think of a cluster of old ladies and gentlemen, helping each other across the street, but I wonder if that will be enough.

And again, I'm not the only one in this position. Maybe you are one of these middle-people, caring for the both the old and young. I'd love to hear from you, about your struggles and solutions. We're stuck in these middle years together. Maybe if we find a better way to negotiate now, it will be a little clearer when it's time for someone to care for us.

(c)2011 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

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True Stories, Honest Lies by Laura S. Packer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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