Since December 23, life has been a complete mess. My aunt, who lives in the house next to ours, suffered a decline in her health brought on by what we knew was renal failure and what we now assume is cancer. She seemed to deteriorate overnight, and much to everyone’s surprise, she’s under the watchful eye of Hospice nurses. But the majority of her caregiving will be left up to me because she insists on dying at home.
This past week, while I started working with a new client on a 10-week project, I raced around town to locate motorized lift chairs and hospital beds with pressure support mechanisms, paid to have carpets cleaned and doorways widened, shower stalls changed from traditional water supplies to bathing wands, and I secured a sitter to fill in for me when I’m unavailable. Then, I remembered that I hadn’t paid one minute of attention to my own daughters and I hadn’t had a conversation with my husband about anything pleasant.
Sitting in the car on the Kroger parking lot, crying, more from exhaustion than from grief – I called a friend to clear my head. Even though I expected my role to get harder, I wasn’t mentally prepared to give everything up again. I had done so for my mother and father when they were sick. But this time, I have two young children. Situations are different. The guilt of having to shuffle loved ones to second place (or third) is overwhelming.
My much wiser friend cut through the blubbering and said something that snapped me to attention.
“Maybe you’re going through all of this again to teach you what kind of older parent you don’t want to become one day.”
I hadn’t thought about this. It never entered my mind. What kind of aging parent do I want to be? What do I not want for my kids? What do Mike and I want to avoid when they’re grown and caring for families of their own?
Let me be perfectly clear: We purchased a house a stone’s throw from ours so my aunt could be close to us. I knew this day would come. I also knew that this purchase was designed to be an assisted living facility of sorts; a means of avoiding a nursing home. I knew this. I signed up for it when I met with the real estate agent and bankers. But I never thought any of this would happen so fast…and not when my life was so full.
“You’re right,” I replied. ”I want to shield the girls from these decisions.”
I’ve been reading a lot about parent contracts — types of written agreements or plans of action that moms and dads issue to their teenage kids when they receive their first cell phones, cars or credit cards. They’re used as a type of printed promise, signed between the two parties, clearly outlining what’s expected from each other once this material thing or privilege has been granted. Some of the agreements include statements like:
* I will turn off my cell phone while I am driving. I will not have it on for any reason while I am behind the wheel.
* If I have to send a message or place a call to someone, I will wait until I have arrived at my destination. Then, I will turn the car off before turning my cell phone on.
And there are written consequences to those actions, too:
* If I break any of these rules, the cell phone will be returned to you and service will be suspended.
These types of family contracts or kids’ pledges, are becoming very popular. A recent Facebook post shared a contract between a mother and son, and it was “liked” by more than 300,000 users. The last line of the contract was the most appreciated:
You are I are learning. We’re in this together. We’ll get through it.
But with all of these rules and stipulations, guidelines and fine print, come the need for some much deserved liberties. In a world filled with great expectations and pressures to perform, there should be some sort of promise that kids will be able to catch a break here and there. That’s what I want my parenting contract to be. A release form.
When Mike and I reach a certain age, we will sell the house we’re living in, even though there are bedrooms and bathrooms on the main level. An apartment or condo will be perfectly suitable for us. There’s no need for a sprawling house with front and back yards to deal with.
When we sell the house, much of our furniture and belongings will go with it. We can’t take this stuff with us, and we doubt our daughters will want half of it. Nothing is antique or of great value. There will be no clutter.
And there will be no pets. Animals can live up to 20 years in some cases, and there’s no fairness in saddling the girls with dogs and cats. It’s a tremendous burden to ask others to make heartbreaking decisions as to what happens to the family pet. So, there won’t be one.
We will purchase long-term care insurance, if we can afford it. If not, we will secure our assets in such a way that prevents our children from having to fret over how we will be cared for. We may not leave them well off, but we won’t leave them with worry.
We will pre-plan and pre-pay for our funerals and burials. Believe me — I’ll have every detail organized down to the pink peonies.
We will have all legal documents drafted, signed, notarized and filed. There will be no question as to who gets what or where those documents are located. They won’t have to hunt for one slip of paper.
We will ask them to visit and call us, but we won’t ask them to move to be near us. We pledge to be their parents. Not their priorities.
Reality, as sad as it is, feels easier to accept now. No matter how tired, stressed or concerned we are, there’s always a well-designed reason for adversity. We may wonder if these problems have been handed down as a form of discipline for something we’ve done, but in the end, hardships are sent as lessons. We’re supposed to change in some way. To that end, perhaps the most important part of being independent is knowing when it’s time to let go.