Last week I contacted my attorney’s firm to make an appointment with him to review our wills. He was no longer with the firm. He gave up his practice and moved cross-country to help his aging parents. What a good son we would all say. And, boy oh boy, is he! He now gets to start over building a legal practice after he passes the bar in another state. Perhaps there is more to the story than what is readily apparent.
But, this reminded me of another day when I sat at lunch with two friends — two childless friends. Somehow the subject of assisted living came up. To my surprise, as we discussed the concept, my lunch mates mentioned how they would be living in such a community one day.
“I plan on aging in place.” I chirped. “Hopefully, I won’t ever go to any type of assisted living.”
Almost simultaneously they both turned to me and said, “Well, of course you won’t. You have children to take care of you.”
Huh? What? Their expectation that my children would care for me was equally surprising. I certainly didn’t have that expectation. My children are my family, part of my emotional support system, but I didn’t have them so they could take care of me in old age.
The primary reason for my planning for independence is my children. I’d like for them to live unfettered with my care. They have their own lives, spouses, children and now, my oldest daughter, has her very first grandchild. Taking care of myself is the best gift I can give them.
That doesn’t mean I won’t be involved in their lives. It means I do everything in my power to remain independent physically, mentally and financially. Contrary to my friends’ assumptions, people with children are no different, than those of us without children. Expecting a child to care for you in old age is expecting them to give up a part of their independence for you.
I grew up knowing a woman who did not have a career, marry or have friends of her own as she spent much of her adult life caring for her parents and a niece who lived with them. Even as a child, I could see she was unhappy with her life. All the neighborhood kids called her “Aunt Ann”. Even that didn’t bring a smile to her face. Eventually, the niece grew up and moved out. The woman’s father and then her mother passed away. People asked her what she would do now. Unfortunately, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and died before she could answer that question. I’m sure this childhood experience colored my view of remaining independent.
We, as parents, should never expect our kids to resign from their lives to care for us. It is up to us to care for us. We owe it to our children to stay physically active, to eat a healthy diet, to pursue our passions, to stay mentally sharp, to develop a community of friends of our own, to stay spiritually true to ourselves. And, if necessary, live in an assisted living community. That is the best legacy we can leave them.