What do we owe our parents when they grow old and need help?
How much of our time and energy and money should we expend on their behalf?
Do we sacrifice our own retirement savings? Compromise our children's college funds? Do we work less, bank less in order to save money on such places as costly assisted living facilities?
Some parents did a better job than others saving money or planning for the future. But even these wise parents could not have predicted they'd live so long or need so much daily assistance. To those who need but can't afford institutional help, the task and responsibility may then fall to their adult children. That "help" can quickly become an unmanageable burden on the only adult child.
This is a dilemma that more and more of us will face.
The U.S. Census Department has some alarming stats on our elderly (65 and over) population.
--The rate of growth of the elderly population has greatly exceeded the growth rate of the country as a whole;
--the number of persons 65 and over would more than double by the middle of the next century to 80 million;
--the oldest old (85 and older) are a small but rapidly growing group and are projected to be the fastest growing segment of the elderly population (from 1964 to 1994, this group increased 274 percent)
This is obvious, but the U.S. Census Dept. also points out that the need for personal assistance with daily activities increases with age.
If you enjoyed a loving, warm relationship with your aging parent, this is still tough stuff. You have a marriage, children, a mortgage, a career or...you worked hard all your life and was looking forward to some time off. Instead of gardening or traveling, you find yourself sticking close to home to care for your aging parent.
But if you are the adult child of a narcissistic parent? A parent who emotionally neglected you? A parent who may have been emotionally abusive? A parent you can't stand to be in the same room with? A parent who barks orders and gets nasty the second they don't get their way? A parent, who in fine health, needed to be the constant center of attention? A parent who sucks all your energy and leaves you none for yourself?
This is what I'm worried about, folks.
With all those rapidly aging parents out there, a fair number of them are narcissists.
But societal expectations of elder care do not take this into account. It is assumed that the parent fed, clothed, loved, supported and nurtured the child. It does not easily admit that some parents were simply incapable of parenting a child. It does not account for the fact that some people have spent their entire lives parenting their parents and now that the parent is old, the child has grown up and is worn out and fed up.
I suspect many adult children of narcissists "wake up" or get a clue when they approach or hit middle age. Right around the same time their narcissistic parent begins showing signs of needing help.
Only WE know just how bad things were in our own homes. Only WE know how we were neglected.
Yet just try telling someone, even a good friend, that you aren't willing to sacrifice yourself to your aging self-centered parent by changing adult diapers or giving them a shower. Go ahead. See what happens. You are likely to get a stern reminder that your parent fed you when you were little and changed YOUR diapers and did the best they could, making you feel like the world's biggest asshole.
If you write to a newspaper columnist and try explaining your dilemma in hopes of finding support, forget it. You're in for a smackdown. You are more likely to be told you are an irresponsible, ungrateful jerk.
People who do not have a narcissistic parent don't get it. They have no idea what we're talking about. Don't look to them for any kind of support and advice. Don't even waste your breath trying to explain. They simply can't fathom the lifelong pain and loss of having a parent who couldn't see or acknowledge you. They can't understand the suffocating/smothering feeling you get when you are in contact with your narcissistic parent. They can't understand that just a casual encounter with such a parent can leave you churned up, for days. They can't fathom the toxicity of a narcissistic parent.
Look inward. Do what you can. You can still act morally, while protecting yourself. Take responsibility if you must and can't avoid it, but outsource their care if that's an option. Don't do it to yourself. Don't even try. Don't feel guilty. Or try not to.
In my next post, I'll share some great advice I got from a geriatric specialist who spent some time with my Dad.
Until then, take care of yourself.