After a recent piece where I explored the "worthiness" of having a baby, I was lucky to be the recipient of all manner of comments and advice. I was also in the middle of a debate that brought the myriad reasons people have children front and center. Some people have children to save their marriages. Those people lack basic reasoning skills and have never watched daytime television. Some people have children to give their lives meaning and worth. Also a risky strategy, but a little more understandable. (Imagine how Charles Manson's mom feels... ) Other people have children because they genuinely want to create and cultivate human life. That's a good and honorable reason that I will not chastise. And then there are the people who have children because they need someone to care for them in old age. I put those people in the same category as folks who think we need slaves because "who else will do our hard labor for free?!"
In other words, they be crazy.
I have taken the opportunity to let each of my parents and in-laws know that while I think they are great, I will not be taking on the honorable responsibility of becoming their primary caregiver when they are no longer able to make it up and down the stairs. Or to the potty. It's not a popular thing to outright refuse, but I'm not looking to be particularly popular, I'm looking to keep my sanity -- and marriage -- intact.
I think the idea of taking in ones parents is really lovely. The very people who fed and bathed you, nurtured you during the most vulnerable period of your life, are now in need of a little of the same. Unfortunately, that's not how it works and there are three main reasons:
1. Your parents (allegedly) chose to have you. It was nice of them to bring you into this world, but they owe it to you to give you the same freedom. The freedom of choice.
2. You have your entire life to prepare for old age. And like the squirrel who plays all summer and fall and then finds himself sh*t out of luck come winter, it's not the responsibility of squirrel's children to deal with his shortsightedness. (Unless the squirrel's children told him it was okay.)
3. We don't live in villages.
The first two are pretty self explanatory. The third is the one that really kills me. In the "unculture" that we've become, we are selectively outraged by anti-family choices. No one is sad that sons and daughters aren't living at home until they are betrothed -- a commonplace practice in many parts of the world. I also haven't seen anyone begging for a red tent for the ladies to commune around. The village isn't clamoring to tend to the newest baby to become part of the tribe. It's considered a luxury if a grandparent can spend a week helping with a new baby. Six weeks maternity hardly fosters a national family spirit. But old people? Suddenly we're an ancient village where respect of elders runs deep and children are honored to bring their parents into the home.
I've never known anyone who wasn't tremendously burdened by the in-home care of an aging relative. Whether the toll was mental, emotional, physical, or financial, it was a toll. Marriages crater under the enormous weight of the responsibility. For some, care of the parents comes right as the last child is flying the coop and suddenly all that promised, post-kids freedom is gone. (Cue Eddie Murphy, "Want a lick? PSYCH!") And unlike choosing to have children and embarking upon the adventure of preparing someone to navigate life, you're preparing someone for death. And that's depressing.
Alas, I have digressed. Parents who have children as a fail safe, in my opinion, miss the point. (By "miss the point" I obviously mean "are terrible.") You spend your days encouraging a child to explore, chase their dreams, be anything they can be. Did you forget to mention that you only meant until you were retired, bored, and suddenly unable to care for yourself? I think it's cruel. I can hear the sound of an old Italian woman guilting her children. After all I did for you!
I'm not suggesting that the breakdown of traditional family units who can depend on each other is a good thing. It's sad. Nor am I saying that my parents cannot depend on me -- they may absolutely depend on me to visit them at their Del Webb community and join in on a cooking class. But when it's time to begin the real descent into Never Neverland, what say we leave that to the professionals?