Honor your father and your mother,
that your days may be long in the land
that the Lord your God is giving you.
By Stephen W. Hiemstra
After the Trinity, the family is our first small group. The church—the bride of Christ—is the family written large. How we treat our family affects everything else we do, if for no other reason than little eyes are watching.
The family is under severe pressure in our time. The majority (about 80 percent) of Americans have seen no real increase in income since the 1980s. Fertility rates have fallen below the rates required to reproduce the current population. Suicide rates are a historically high levels, which, together with drug overdoses and premature deaths due to diabetes, has contributed to an unprecedented decline in life expectancy for the past three years. Meanwhile, the focus on individual rights, social media, video gaming, and cell-phones have left many young people isolated and fearful of assuming family responsibilities.
To be fair, postmodern life wears out families. For couples in their family-raising (ages 30-50) years, two incomes are required to meet the normal expectations for the American dream—two cars, a house, two-point-one kids, college education, a healthcare plan, and retirement savings—and eldercare competes with childcare for time leftover after work. No one can reasonably be expected to meet these expectations and many have stopped trying. Couples are delaying marriage and many prefer to retain a single lifestyle even after marriage, sharing life only with their pets.
In the midst of social chaos, Jesus calls us to live a sacrificial lifestyle. Lead a disciplined work life, manage your resources of time, talents, and money carefully, and care for your kids and your parents modeled after Christ under the mentorship of the Holy Spirit. Remember—the future belongs to those who live in Christ. Honoring your parents in a age that worships sex and youthfulness is a particularly obvious and righteous testimony.
The Eldercare Journey
For those not yet acquainted with eldercare, it poses a number of challenges that no one can fully meet. For the senior, growing old is experienced as a series of losses in function, physical abilities, and relationships, each of which need to be grieved.1 For the care giver, these losses pose gaps that need to be filled and challenges in offering comfort.
Stepping up to meet these challenges is hard for caregivers because it presumes a role reversal—the parent suddenly becomes the child and the child assumes a parental role. This role reversal is difficult for both parties and the reversal may need to be repeated as different issues arise.
Consider the issue of driving. For suburbanites, every activity starts with a car trip. Driving is a teenage rite of passage for this very reason. A socially-active senior without a driver’s license is suddenly house-bound and must depend on others for transportation. Seniors are reluctant to admit their dependence and caregivers may not have time. Oftentimes, seniors only surrender their licenses after an accident because their kids are unwilling to raise the issue. Memory-loss issues only make the problem worse.
For all the challenges, eldercare also offers the opportunity for children and grand children to spend time with their parents. Where you once knew your parents as a child, now you get to engage with them more fully as an adult. One of the first things that I did when my father came down with Alzheimer’s disease was to edit and publish his memoir as a prelude to writing my own. This proved to be a fruitful exercise because it deepened my understanding of him and made it possible to share the memoir with the caregivers that we hired to care for him. For the caregivers and for me, my father grew from a daily burden to someone deserving of empathy, much as God sees him.
Mitchell, Kenneth R. and Herbert Anderson. 1983. All Our Losses; All Our Griefs: Resources for Pastoral Care. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.
1 Mitchell and Anderson (1983, 35-45) identify six major types of loss, including: 1. Material loss, 2. Relationship loss, 3. Intra-psychic loss—loss of a dream, 4. Functional loss—including loss of autonomy, 5. Role loss—like retirement, and 6. Systemic loss—like departure from your family of origin.
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