This might be a repost but I couldn't find it on BHM. But I thought it was an interesting article, especially when I have a father who is getting up there, hell he is up there but thankfully he is doing very well. But based on my relationship with my parents, I will help around to make sure that they are doing well, helping with errands, etc. But if they were abusive, I will not lie, I will cut them off like a tumor. Any thoughts, opinions, comments?
The Undeserving Parent
By PAULA SPAN
Doug Plummer/Getty Images
Maybe this incident tells you all you need to
know. Wendy was 9 or 10, sitting in a Massachusetts restaurant with her
mother and grandmother, and yawning.
“Are you bored?” her mother asked.
“Yes,” Wendy said.
Her mother’s response: a slap across the
face, not for the first time nor for the last. She hit Wendy when she
was a teenager who stumbled at night and awakened her. She hit Wendy
when she was a bride-to-be trying on wedding gowns.
“To this day, when she hears something she
doesn’t like, she still says, ‘I’ll smack you,’” Wendy told me in an
interview. (Her last name has been withheld to protect her family’s
For years, Wendy lived with her grandparents,
who provided a welcome haven while her mother divorced and remarried
four times, moved cross-country and then returned. “I never felt that I
mattered to her,” Wendy said. “I was more like an accessory.”
Now her mother, who lives near her in Fort
Lauderdale, Fla., is 81 and no longer actually smacks anyone, though a
penchant for sarcasm and nastiness endures. Wendy has managed to put
together a good life at 57: She cherishes her long marriage, has raised
three children she adores, makes art and cooks and volunteers with
animal rescue groups. She doubts she will ever be close to her mother
(and barely remembers her father — her parents divorced when she was 4).
But “we have détente,” she said.
So what, if anything, does Wendy owe her now?
She knows her mother, though still healthy, will probably become more
dependent. In fact, she already calls to demand that Wendy and her
husband help with everything from feuds with neighbors to cable
We’ve previously talked here about strained parent-child relationships in the context of tensions between siblings,
the ones who step up to care for parents and resent those who feel they
can’t. But Wendy is an only child; there’s no one on whom to offload
her mother’s care. Can she really turn her back on an elderly, ailing
That would violate a deep-seated social and
cultural understanding (even, in many states, a legal obligation). Your
parents did the best they could for you; when they’re old and need help,
you do the best you can for them. But physically or emotionally
abusive parents have already violated that convention. Is there still
an ethical duty to assist them? Even “filial responsibility” laws
requiring adult children to care for parents make an exception for
those whose parents abandoned them or otherwise did them some injury.
(Some New Old Age readers have referred, in
comments, to their own struggles with caring for once-abusive parents as
they grow dependent. If that describes your situation, I’d like to
hear how you handle the dilemma.)
Wendy hasn’t quite turned her back on her
mother. They speak two or three times a week. Wendy invites her for
holiday meals and drives her to visit her youngest son at college a few
hours away. But she has started to think about what’s ahead.
She has considered the damage her unstable
childhood has wrought, including years spent coping with depression and
eating disorders. She’s concerned about her husband’s health. She knows
something about what caregiving involves, having helped her beloved
grandmother die at home, as she wished.
She remembers, too, what she learned from her
psychologist during two years of therapy: “She taught me how to be
strong and not react to my mother, which was all you could do with
someone like that.”
And she has decided that when her mother
becomes disabled, as about two-thirds of older Americans do, “she’s
going to have to find a facility that will take care of her,” Wendy
said. “I will drive her around” to visit and choose a new home, “but
I’m not going to contribute to it.” Her mother is financially secure
and can afford assisted living on her own.
“I’m not a cold person. I’m not aloof or
distant,” Wendy added. “But in this case, I have to be. I don’t ever
remember a time when there wasn’t something said that was hurtful and
mean-spirited. I think you get what you give.”
Caring for her grandmother at home, playing
her favorite operas as she neared death, was a duty Wendy was glad to
take on, an act of love. With her mother, “there’s just not a lot of
So far, she is at ease with this decision,
though she knows others will question or criticize. “I don’t care,” she
said. “Let them live my life. A nurse’s aide is going to think I’m a
horrible daughter? Whatever.”