Am I Doing Enough For My Elderly Parents?
January 3, 2017 5:41 AM   Subscribe

Inspired by this recent ask I would like to ask you all if you think I am doing enough for my elderly parents and if not, what I can reasonably be expected to do. Details below the fold.

My parents are elderly (80 + and 90 +) but still living in their own home with no need of home care. They are out and about almost every day for a bit. They live in a small community but are a bit shy and don't mix a lot with anyone.

There is some extended family who occasionally see them, but none who lives closer than I do (it's about 3 hours out of my day going and coming back). All of the extended family have their own health challenges and family to think about, although several of the family and some friends keep in touch with my parents regularly via E-mail and phone calls. They have at least one person who visits weekly (non-family) and others who drop by maybe a couple of times a year.

I'm in my late 50s (married, no children). I E-mail my parents six days a week telling them the little things in our lives and I phone them once a week and chat to each of them for nearly 2 hours combined. I handle some administrative things for them and I make their doctors appointments and bring them in for them (usually about 5-6 times a year). We help them with things around the house when necessary (repairs and such). I go out to see them for an hour or two when I can, sometimes for a whole day of non-doctor related things, but that's usually only 4 or 5 times a year.

I work full time and have a husband who is somewhat disabled and so who cannot work much. He doesn't need physical help, but emotionally he does. I'm also an introvert who really needs a lot of time alone, and I have a low immune system and so am frequently coming down with illnesses (often once a month I'm knocked out with a cold or flu and have to miss work).

My parents are always asking, with barely concealed need, when I'll go out to visit them again, and I feel awful when I have to say, "Not for a few weeks at least."

Am I doing enough for them currently? If not, what else should I try to do, and how often? I don't want to be selfish or lazy, but I also know that when they're gone, I'll wish I had done more. I want to make sure that I balance their needs with my own self-care, and I just don't know what's right.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (13 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I don't think it is unreasonable to set limits and meet your needs first and if you can't, you can't. That said, if you already know that you will wish you had done more, it may be a good idea to see how you can work it out to visit a bit more regularly. The rest of my answer is based on that.

Can your husband drive? It seems to me like a solution would be to have him have lunch with them once every other week while you're working or something along those lines (play cards, go to the library, etc.) Part of the solution to elder care is the same as childcare: creating a team.

Another way to make the visiting a tad easier is to see if you can combine it with something that helps you, like go grocery shopping together (a cooler in the car will help with the drive back) or bake while you're there.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:58 AM on January 3, 2017

You sound very engaged and caring.

Could your weekly calls be on Skype so they can see you? Might feel a bit more like an in-person visit that way.
posted by dywypi at 6:08 AM on January 3, 2017 [5 favorites]

Given the distance and the fact that they're both able to get out and about, I'd say you're doing more than enough. They're always going to want to see you more but there's only so much you can do.
No-one can tell you exactly how much is the right amount, because there is no set right amount of time to visit your parents. Could you do more? Sure. You could also be doing less. If you're concerned you're not doing enough, try going a few more times a year, if that's ok, maybe try monthly, how does that feel? Too much? Then dial it back a bit until you feel balanced between taking care of your needs and not feeling guilty about your parents
posted by missmagenta at 6:57 AM on January 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

I think you're probably doing enough. It sounds like their needs are being met, and that you see them often enough to notice any decline quickly enough to help. However! They are probably lonely. One of the things that happens when you live into your 80s & 90s is that your friends do not. If they aren't hanging out with friends, they're probably feeling a bit isolated. It seems like an ideal solution to have your husband go there once a week or so to help out. Maybe do grocery shopping, get lunch, help with getting something from the basement, whatever. Might help with his emotional needs, too. Anther option would be to look into some kind of senior group in the area. Many towns have a senior center where people can just drop in and hang out. I know you said they're shy, but there's no obligation to interact. Sometimes just being somewhere where there are people is enough. Good luck!
posted by clone boulevard at 7:34 AM on January 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

If they don't have a ton of interaction with the people in their community is there a reason that they could not downsize into a living situation closer to where you are? (Maybe that will cause you different distress, but maybe spending the 2 hours weekly on the phone physically checking in on them would be better? Plus all the time saved on commuting when necessary? We used to live 5+ hours from my parents and now we live less than a mile away. So our visits tend to be one hour instead of a whole weekend, and it is much much better for everyone. YMMV, of course).
posted by dpx.mfx at 7:40 AM on January 3, 2017 [7 favorites]

It sounds like you see them about once a month, you talk to them 2 hours a week and you email every day. If that is an accurate summary, I think anyone would think that was attentive. One thing you might consider is whether several short calls a week might be more beneficial to your parents than one long call. I recently started calling my parents every day while I walk my dog, and it seems like they really appreciate the more frequent contact.
posted by OrangeDisk at 7:49 AM on January 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

I call my elderly dad every day. Sometimes we speak for less than 2 minutes; sometimes we speak for about 15. I rarely see him because he lives several states away. I know he truly appreciates these conversations. I have a flat-rate phone plan so we can speak as much as we want. Consider asking your parents if they would prefer that you called more and cut back on the email. Email is kind of bloodless; when you feel lonely, hearing someone's voice can be a comfort. That said, you are doing a great deal for your parents already. If it's too much work to call them more often, don't do it! It sounds to me like you are incredibly stretched already. But perhaps calling three times a week instead of once is doable if the calls are shorter, as they tend to be if you call more frequently.
posted by Bella Donna at 8:28 AM on January 3, 2017 [4 favorites]

There's not a "right" answer to this and our society is set up to make it very hard to stay close to family. Having said that, I personally have increased my time with my parents recently and feel glad that I did, even as I also feel some resentment and we historically had a very challenging relationship. I find that having a 'rule' helps me be consistent. So right now I am going there once a week (unless I'm sick) but I will likely revert to once a month after I have helped organize some additional services for them. They are also 1.5 hours away but I tend to go for the day right now instead of spending the night which I generally do more often. I also have many other obligations: a full time job, a relationship, a teenager. It's stressful and tiring. But right now this feels 'right' to me.
posted by latkes at 8:42 AM on January 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

If you decide you want to see them more, you might find it easier if you routinize it. Going there for dinner every Thursday night, or spending the first and third Saturdays with them every month, may actually feel easier than spending less time with them more intermittently.

Are they ever able to come to you?
posted by metasarah at 9:43 AM on January 3, 2017

In my experience you are doing way more than most people.
posted by SyraCarol at 11:16 AM on January 3, 2017

Seconding the advice re shorter, more frequent calls (after checking with them, of course). Also, what metasarah said regarding a scheduled routine, i.e., if they know you will be coming on a specified day, they may be less likely to need/ask about more visits.

Don't mean to unnecessarily stress you out, but I'm afraid that the real issues will begin with the first death. It's not too early to start preparing for how you will handle taking care of the widowed parent.
posted by she's not there at 2:48 PM on January 3, 2017

You're seeking reassurance that you are doing enough, and there is no set standard for enough. For some people, you're going above and beyond. Others might disagree. It depends on so many things, like family history and cultural expectations.

I think that if YOU think you aren't doing enough, then you're probably not doing enough.
posted by ereshkigal45 at 2:51 PM on January 3, 2017

From the OP:
Thanks everyone for your comments and suggestions! A follow up for the questions asked.

@warriorqueen: I'm afraid my husband can't help with this beyond what he is already doing. He can drive, but he is limited physically in what he can do, although on the days we bring them into the city, he does help then. Also, they want to see *me*, not my husband (although they like him very much).

I'd love to combine my time with them with something we do together, but at least one of them interprets "time together" as "time spent sitting and talking to them, not doing other things."

@dywypi: Skype sounds like a good idea and I'm working on convincing them to try it.

@clone boulevard: the Senior Group is a good idea too, and I believe there is one, but they won't go to it. One of them really is very shy and would find it very unpleasant even without any interaction and the other won't go alone

@ metasarah: they are not able to come to me, no.

@dpx.mfx: they strongly prefer their current living location, so I don't see them moving closer

I will consider phoning more often for much shorter periods of time, although knowing them, it will be very difficult to get off the phone in less than an hour at least.

If anyone has any further comments or suggestions, I'd appreciate hearing them. Thanks again for all your help so far.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane (staff) at 6:14 AM on January 4, 2017

« Older Politics, Friendship, and Anxiety - Oh My!   |   How do I recover and rekindle my inner fire in... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.