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Will We Depend On Our Children In Our Sunset Years?

Posted: June 13, 2014

With changing aspirations, families often have to deal with children living far away from their parents. Here is an introspective look on the parents’ side of the story, their dilemmas, and a very important question.

“Is it OK for our kids to feel guilty if they are unable to look after us when we get old and sick?”

A sudden uncomfortable silence descended on the party that had been fairly lively till then. All of us stared at the guest who had posed this strange query. He went on to elaborate, “Some children of those of us here live overseas. They are there for better career prospects and  we too have knowingly or unknowingly encouraged them to go abroad to seek better pastures. We basked in their success and even helped them out with babysitting when required. Then we were younger and physically able to look after ourselves.”

“…We basked in their success and even helped them out with babysitting when required. Then we were younger and physically able to look after ourselves.”

By now, the gentlemen had everyone’s attention. He was well into his seventies, yet his voice did not waver as he continued, “The grandkids are growing up and our children are totally engrossed in their lives in the foreign cities. We are growing old, becoming physically weaker and dependent. Our situation will only worsen as diseases may set in. Obviously, our now-busy children will not have time to look after us on a daily basis. So is it OK for them to feel guilty if they cannot look after us when we get old and sick?”

“Obviously, our now-busy children will not have time to look after us on a daily basis.”

As happens when faced with unwanted uncomfortable questions, we all avoided eye contact with each other. Some suddenly found urgent messages to deal with on the phone, some began to clear up glasses, somebody escaped to the wash room.

Eventually we regrouped and started talking simultaneously. Here are a few of the emotional statements:

  • “The situation is so bad here, why should our kids not go abroad? They will have a good life there. There is no hope here for them.”
  • “Does being successful mean only going abroad? There is success and financial reward in India, too. If everyone chooses to run away then who will set things right here? Everyone must give back to the society they have been brought up in.”
  • “Do you mean to say that children must not move to different cities or countries when they have a good career opportunity, or their job demands so?”
  • “My daughter volunteers at a senior citizens’ home. Surely her work will be ‘paid forward’ and someone will look after us here in India?”
  • “We plan to shift to a senior citizens facility so our son does not have to worry about looking after us. He has already visited and chosen one facility here.”
  • “My daughter lives in my city and visits me every week. We talk every day but I wish she would come more often.”
  • “My son and daughter plan to take turns to come stay with me. They have set up a trust fund that will pay for domestic help and assisted care for me.”
  • “Money cannot be a substitute for family. It cannot always get the help that is needed. And anyway, we don’t have reliable help any more.”
  • “We cannot stop them  from feeling guilty but we can reassure them that we are comfortable and looked after. There is no need to worry. That should be reassuring.”

After about 15 minutes of a high pitched debate, the hostess intervened with ice cream, which cooled tempers that were threatening to go out of control. Silence prevailed and soon the party ended on a largely introspective note.

The original question haunted me for quite a while. Improved lifestyles, better medicines, and proactive medical investigations have increased average life span. We look after our ageing parents – which, in fact, is our tradition.

Help can be emotional, financial, and physical. This does not necessarily mean living in a joint family. When one is old and weak, it is their children that parents trust and want the most… to talk with, to share thoughts with, to complain, to argue with, to fight with. When separated by thousands of kilometres, this may not always be possible.

This loneliness is compounded when one parent passes away. Obviously, the children (who may be overseas or in a different city) have their own family and career commitments due to which they can devote limited time with their old parents. Sickness, loneliness, a feeling of perceived-rejection can create a potential crisis situation. I have read reports of thugs who have gained confidence of such vulnerable seniors and had property willed to them.

I am sure all of us know of elders in such situations trying to put on a brave face. Some of us are likely to face the same a few years from now. Have we thought this over? What will be our support systems? Have we saved enough to fund such support? Can we turn to our children for help? Can they be there for us?

If not, are we prepared?

Pic credit: AmyZZZ1 (Used under a CC license)

Archana is a physiotherapist, fitness enthusiast, amateur field botanist and nurtures a few bonsai. Happiest

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  1. I have a very harsh perspective to this. What you mention above is all true to the word and very precise. BUT when we have outsourced raising children to daycares and nannies, we forgot to create a culture of “caring” at home. We forgot to teach that we as a family do things for each other. I know I grew up knowing my mom gave up her career (not desire to do well in life) to raise me the way she wanted me to be. I have learnt a completely parallel value from her. That for family, we think of giving up things. Do not cringe at the thought of spending time doing things that we might not think is the best use of our time. For family, we make changes. Changes that sometimes affect lives. Today I place the needs of my child above all and then my parents because I saw her do the same. But we outsourced these important learning opportunities to others. I personally cannot expect it from my child when I did not give him the value system. Today I have domestic help take care of my parents, my son does not know any other way. We do not live with any set of parents, my son is not going to know any other way. So our expectations are all wrong. We will have to fend for ourselves. As your article suggests, we should be prepared and tuck away good retirement plans.

  2. Thanks Uma, Menaka, Nandhini, Sunder, Asawari for reading and sharing your thoughts. This is a situation all of us will have to face. Its a highly emotional topic and one that cant be swept under the carpet or pushed away. Each of us has to accept the reality however harsh or easy it may be, keep communications within the family open and transparent and choose a path that is suitable for us. There is no ideal solution and one size does not fit all. Just my two bit….

  3. Chhaya Chandrasekhar -

    Agreed to your thoughts as each of us have a different background. History repeats. We need to inculcate some of our values to our children and make them understand the due respect to our parents, grand-parents, uncles and aunts, brothers and sisters. Property. money is secondary which can be bought and earned but not relationship.

    • Thank You Chhaya. You have brought out a very valid point about inculcating some values into our children. This is vital in nuclear families. Relationships cannot be bought as you have said they have to be nurtured. The called ’emotional bank accounts’ have to be refilled regularly.

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