The other day, I met a couple after the Sunday worship in the church premises and asked why they are not in a hurry to go back home as usual. They replied, “Our kids are staying back in Sunday school, we feel uneasy at home without them”. If this is the situation of the parents who can’t stay away from their children for a day, it is worth analyzing the situation of parents who have to live away from their children for a long time.
Compared with their counterparts in developed countries, Indian parents place greater emphasis on their children succeeding in work – published in a report titled “The Value of Education: Learning for Life”. Indian parents are willing to spend more to give their child the opportunity to study abroad as they believe students receive a more rounded education and experience abroad.
The feeling of grief and loneliness parents feel when their children leave home is called ‘empty nest syndrome’. It is not a clinical condition and is not a term you will find in many medical textbooks, but it has become a useful ‘label’ for the feelings of sadness and loss, which many individuals experience when their children fly the nest.
After marriage, the couples love each other and feel complete in the presence of each other. They don’t prefer to have an ‘outsider’ when they are together. However, subsequent to their attempt to achieve the completeness, a child is born strengthening their relationship. The child is not an ‘outsider’ rather the incarnation of their love, becoming an inevitable part of the family. For parents, their kids are always ‘small children’. They will continue to take care of them even if the kids are grown up. That is why the great grandmother, in spite of her age-related ailments, is worried about the health of her son who might have grandchildren. Parents who like to have their kids, always with them should understand that their parents also wish the same.
Our church has successfully completed an awareness program for the elderly and palliative care, an exclusive project for the ones left alone in their twilight years. His Holiness Marthoma Paulose Marthoma Paulose II termed it as a “burning issue” and needs to be tackled on an urgent basis and donated his own land for such a project. I would like to share from my pastoral experience, some practical suggestions for caring for aging parents in Kerala for those in the diaspora.
1. Be in love with your Parents
This is the most important responsibility towards your parents. This is possible only when you accept them as they are. They may have conditioning, habits and convictions that we may not agree with. Buckminster Fuller created the “Knowledge Doubling Curve” and his research revealed that human knowledge doubled every century up to around 1900. The end of World War II reduced that time frame for every 25 years. Today, some parts of our knowledge have advanced faster than others and on average, human knowledge is doubling every 13 months. With this rate of change in human knowledge, it is not surprising to see huge gap that builds between our parents and us.
We may have complaints about our parents on their attitude and bias towards our siblings, our lifestyles, religious and world views. We may succeed in substantiating that our parents are wrong. But we should always remember that they are our parents and understand that trying to change our parents’ lifetime of thinking is brutal and impossible in one or two conversations. We should love unconditionally and learn to accept them as they are and accept the fact that there is absolutely no replacement for our parents. We can persuade them with love, patience, and empathy. Though they may be wrong with many contemporary matters, ultimately they are responsible for our birth and growth. Usually, it’s said, “we can change our friend, we can’t change our neighbors”. But if we have enough money, we can move and change our neighbors too, but it is impossible to change our parents.
2. Be in touch with your Parents
Communication is a way of expressing our love. It is more relevant when we stay away from our parents. Parents are waiting to hear the sound of their children like Hornbill waiting for rain. We should make every possible effort to talk to them for a moment on a daily basis. This is not to convey some information, but a great opportunity to fill the vacuum in our parents’ home with our voice. We should encourage our kids to talk to our parents at least once in a week. Our parents want to listen to the sound of the small babies though they are not able to speak. They are in ecstasy when the grandchildren call them ‘appacha, ammachi’. We can make use of the modern technology to facilitate connection. We can train our parents to use Skype, WhatsApp and video calling. Today with smartphones and data connections, it is absolutely easy to connect on a daily basis by sharing our pictures, videos, and moments.
An old lady used to complain about her phone. Every time the personnel from telephone exchange found it worked. Finally, she asked a question, “Then why my children are not calling?”
Our kids can tell the name of the grandfather of Mahatma Gandhi as they learn it as part of history at school. Will they tell the name of their grandparents? I have noticed if somebody asks about their hometown to kids, parents would step in to say with pride “she/he doesn’t know it. She/he rarely visits there”. Is this actually a matter of pride, we should ask ourselves! We have a system of keeping the name with two initials, the short form of the family name and father’s name. Actually, it comprises the full address of that individual giving his identity. For example, K.A. George means George son of Kavunkal Alias. We misunderstand the house number given by the municipality as our address! When we go to Kerala we should find time to visit the older generation, seek blessing at their tomb and make them familiarize to the new generation.
3. It is your responsibility to take care of your Parents
Taking care of one’s parents is embedded in our culture. Parents are morally and legally obligated to care for their children when they are young. They provide shelter, food, clothes and above all, all the sacrifices they make on a daily basis. Isn’t it fair to ask that when children grow up and their parents become elderly, they take up the responsibility to provide a decent life for their parents? We should consider this as our moral obligation and not be forced as part of our adherence to the recently passed Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act. Today our parents are more financially stable and independent, but that should not stand in our way to our responsibility as their children. His Holiness Baselios Marthoma Mathews II of blessed memory used to give a dhoti to his father every year, as said in an interview. Holy Father says, “Parents enjoy receiving from their children. Not because they need it. But getting it from their children is something special”. Every time when we give something, they share their joy by showing their friends “It’s sent by my son”. They want to prove that their children are taking care of them. We should give something to our parents from our income on a regular basis. It may vary according to our financial situation and their needs. However, we should give them something even in our financial constraints. We can never repay the debts we have to them. Giving something regularly is the external expression of this gratitude.
4. Respect siblings who take care of your Parents
We cannot define our responsibility towards our parents on the basis of money. Parents need our presence, love and care. Sometimes we are unable to fulfill this in a certain situation. If we are one of those lucky ones who have a sibling who could fill in for us, we should be grateful to them as they are fulfilling their responsibility as a vocation. They do the service when we discharge our job by sending something or showing love and care through phone calls.
It is a difficult job to serve parents in their old age, catering to their particularities and obstinate nature, it is essential that we don’t find fault in the care provided. Instead of giving suggestions like, “Give a new bedsheet to ammachi or provide a better blanket to appachen” we should be kind enough to take a few days off our busy schedule and physically give our sibling a break. We may have numerous suggestions in our one week stay with our parents overlooking all the great work our siblings do day in and day out.
It is necessary that we appreciate the efforts and services of our siblings to make sure they stay motivated as their work only gets challenging with time. Always be diligent not to give false promises, suggestions, and guidance. This is not the place to be tactful and smart by saying “If you come with us we could take care of you better”. We should realize the fact that we may not have the capability to take care of them for a week. Let us adore our siblings for their wonderful job. They do what we can’t do.
We all have reasons to be abroad, however, insubstantial, it may look to others, and there is no excuse for abandoning the care of parents in exchange for a career growth, life aspirations or financial gains. We should realize that as our parents live with the fear of aging without us and the uncertainty of how life will unfold, the mutual emotional support and bonding have no equivalent! Can we all make a commitment that caring for our parents is one of the top priorities in our lives because I can confidently say from the lives of many that the best years of their lives were the years with their parents’.
[Fr. Jaise K. George has completed the theological education from STOTS Nagpur and is serving as the Vicar of various parishes in the Diocese of Delhi. He is the Coordinator for the Pre-Marital Guidance Program, Diocese of Delhi. He is a research scholar in Psychology]