Our Responsibility As Children

steve - santa rosa, California
Entered on October 3, 2008
Age Group: 50 - 65
  • Podcasts

    Sign up for our free, weekly podcast of featured essays. You can download recent episodes individually, or subscribe to automatically receive each podcast. Learn more.

  • FAQ

    Frequently asked questions about the This I Believe project, educational opportunities and more...

  • Top Essays USB Drive

    This USB drive contains 100 of the top This I Believe audio broadcasts of the last ten years, plus some favorites from Edward R. Murrow's radio series of the 1950s. It's perfect for personal or classroom use! Click here to learn more.

I recently told one of my friends what I was doing in my retirement: my wife and spend half of our time in Michigan helping my 88 year-old Dad and 90 year-old Mother, the other half in our home in California providing long-distance companionship. We talk to them twice a day.

The response to my answer varies little from person to person. “That’s fantastic” or “that’s remarkable” or “your parents are really lucky to have a child like you” My wife and I are always bewildered by such responses.

What is fantastic about loving and respecting your parents and cherishing every minute you can spend with them, enjoying every conversation you can have with them?

What is remarkable about supporting them in their everyday needs, helping them maintain their dignity and providing needed companionship?

And what does luck have to do with it? They are, as my wife often tells them, getting back what they gave. We give freely of our time because we love them and because it’s the right thing to do.

I’ll admit that my wife and I are not a typical couple with aging parents. We don’t have children and my wife’s parents are long-deceased. My wife dearly loves my Mom and Dad and that, too, may be atypical. We are fortunate to have financial resources that enable us to live in two places.

But the real enabling force is our shared view that aging is a time for more love, not less; a time for cherishing not resenting the challenges it presents; and a time for more empathy, not more impatience.

I believe a too- large segment of our population doesn’t share our view. Anecdotally, I could cite numerous examples, but you probably have stories of your own.It’s a sad fact that our aged and our aging are often abused physically, emotionally and financially, sadly, at times, by their children or by despicable predators who take advantage of their fear and fading judgement. Horror stories of abuse and mistreatment in nursing homes are far too frequently in the news.

Sadly, many elderly do live and will die alone and forgotten.

So this what I believe: today’s younger generations are at a crossroads in their humanity. They can choose to push or allow their parents to sink into the aging abyss, using their own children and grandchildren as a bandwidth excuse, or they can choose to pull them into their lives in a way that reflects the respect they deserve and the love their existence demands. A simple truth should help guide their actions: they may have several spouses, children and grandchildren, but they will only ever have two parents.

I believe that, as a country, we have shunned our elderly aside and allowed them to largely fend for themselves. Their dwindling Social Security buying power, the high costs of health care, the increasing cost of prescriptions, the shrinking budgets for “Meals on Wheels” and the lack of community-sponsored transportation are part of a greater litany of things that are wrong with our society’s approach to managing our aging population.

Sadly, we can’t look to government on any level to effectively serve their needs. As children, particularily senior citizen-children like me, it is our responsibility to be their health-care advocates, their taxis, their cooks and most importantly, their friends and companions. We need to make the time to do what’s right and we need to do what’s necessary without question.

What they did for us as we were growing up, we need to do for them as they growing old.