My neighbors up the street bought a house that was also a dentist’s office. The main house is a center hall colonial, but the dentist office was a side add-on. Above the old office is a small one room apartment with a bathroom. My neighbors turned the dentist office into a pretty decent apartment which their uncle Ed moved into. The small space upstairs is used by their parents when they come to visit. Because of this arrangement their house is usually filled with family. They have two children, and the grandparents come by all of the time. They also have Uncle Ed to help with the kids and the house. Here in the good old USA, this used to be the way most people lived. In most of the world today, extended families are the norm. What happened to us?
Betsy’s Mom died when our kids were very young, so they barely remember her. Her Father moved to California and we visit him every three years or so. My parents moved to Florida to live the good life with every other retired person from New Jersey. When their health started to deteriorate, they moved to Lancaster, PA, a three hour one way commute for me that limits my visits. My kids know their grandparents, but don’t know them very well.
There was a moment in our lives when Betsy and I came to the same conclusion. It was this; our kids are not growing up with grandparents - and it stinks. Both Betsy and I had grandparents living nearby. I remember spending many days over at Grandma and Bowie’s (our nickname for him). Until they passed away when I was in my twenties, there wasn’t a time when I didn’t have an extended family around me. Extended family time for my kids is rare. They don’t have the same love and affection for their grandparents that I had for mine. Betsy and I feel our kids got cheated out of something important. There’s nothing we could do about it, but still, it just seems wrong.
Children abandoning parents seems wrong as well. I have a wonderful senior ministry at a local center. One of the ladies complains to me about her daughter. Why didn’t her daughter bring her into her home? Why did she get dumped into this facility? I don’t have any answers for her. It may be because she is disabled and has a difficult time getting out of a chair and difficulty walking. However, I have known many families that have brought their infirm parents into their homes and accommodated them. Instead of spending their parent’s money on a senior facility, they bought or expanded a home so that a grandparent could live with them. There is also nursing care that can be brought in to help Mom or Dad when their children are at work. I’m sure there are many good reasons why a parent ends up in a senior facility. But if I was given the choice, my parents would be here with me.
Mom and Dad went to Florida to live the good life. Mom complained the entire time about not seeing her grandchildren. They moved to the senior facility in Lancaster so that they wouldn’t be a burden on their children. Now that Dad has passed, Mom is surrounded by luxurious living accommodations, and is miserable because she is alone most of the time. This is living the good life? They moved away claiming they couldn’t afford the good life in NJ. I live in NJ and I don’t earn a whole lot, but I live the good life because I’m surrounded by family and friends. It’s not that hard to learn to live on less. And as far as not being a burden on us, I would have welcomed the burden of taking care of my parents. The mistake my parents made was thinking it would be a burden. It wouldn’t, it would be a privilege.
“Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” Exodus 20:12 NIV.
Betsy and I have made a decision. Our kids are adults and are starting to move on in their lives. We want to be a part of that movement. We have told our children that the first to settle down, i.e. married, house, popping out babies, etc… That is where we will end up. It’s more important to us to be active grandparents than to worry about where we are living. We want to honor our children by being their extended family. And I am sure that they will honor us as well.
God bless you,