By: Revanche

How Much Help Should An Adult Child Give Parents?

May 8, 2011

I suppose this is a fitting enough post for Mother’s Day. Happy Mother’s Day!

In the aftermath of my venting posts about my brother, The high costs of Parenting Fails, or a Bad Seed Part 1 and Part 2, I feel I did my parents a disservice.  In focusing on the mistakes that we made specific to my brother, I seem to have implied that my parents were a) ungrateful, and b) hadn’t done anything right.

Those two bits couldn’t be more wrong.

To compound the wrongness, some, especially after the Consumerist picked up the latter post, said I was asking the wrong question, that I ought to have asked how much I ought to be supporting my parents instead of how much parents should support their children.

To be clear, I wasn’t asking any question in the first place, I was just mad at my brother for being a clown.   

But if I were, my simple answer would be this: parents are to love their children completely and equip them with the skills they need to become fully functional, independent adults.  Many times, that will mean not just giving them things or money but rather imparting the knowledge of how to obtain those things. And the material support does have an end. The complicated answer is complicated.

Before I can answer the question of how much help this adult child should give her parents, I have to put in context this adult child and her parents as there were a number of assumptions drawn from the limited and rather irrelevant posts above.

Without getting into the details of their lives before us, some of which you can read here about my mom and a brief synopsis here, there was plenty that they did right and much they did to have inspired my desire to support them in return.

This isn’t a blind, enculturated sense of filial duty. Certainly it’s filial but it starts from the knowledge that they chose to sacrifice their established lives to come to a foreign country, learn a new language, and start over to give us a better shot at good lives. They could have stayed but instead chose to trade in their quality of life for an automatic “one up” for us. It was a roll of the dice whether their lives would improve or not since “Land of Opportunity” or not, life in America was equal parts luck (ill or good) and much hard work for the first wave of immigrants; we had relatives already in the States who could testify to the amount of work necessary to make it here. There was no such thing as an easy ride and they still chose to make the leap for us.

Making life even more challenging for themselves, they moved into a tiny predominantly Caucausian suburb instead of the established community enclaves, guaranteeing our better education and assimilation; the freeways creating concrete barriers between us and the vortices of gang violence developing in the LA/Orange County areas where much of our family had already settled.

Upon their arrival, my parents worked every single day, 14 -16 hour days. They never took a day off, never took a holiday and only alternated three vacations between the two of them in thirty years in order to do their duty in taking us home to meet our grandparents. We couldn’t afford those trips, of course but it was incredibly important for us to know them. We occasionally drove into the city on the weekend for a morning to run an errand as a family, but otherwise, my parents worked constantly to make the bills and send us to the best school possible. I never heard a single complaint, so I never knew this wasn’t “normal.”

During my teenage years, the hours actually got longer because they put my brother in private high school having seen one male cousin fall in with the wrong crowd at the public school and come to a tragically early end, planned to pay for our college education and ran two businesses to afford it all. They paid for music lessons and three sports of my choosing before my senior year of high school.

By the time everything started to unravel at the start of my college years, my parents had worn themselves to a thread giving us as much as they could.  That didn’t mean they’d given up, though.

Despite Grandma’s illness, living with us, bedridden, and in the past…
Despite Mom and Dad having to tend to her every day even though Mom herself was quite ill requiring surgeries and rounds of medications that weren’t working…
Despite the businesses going south between the embezzlement and the health problems…
Despite the remaining credit card debts from the business and taking us back to the old country to meet our grandparents…
Despite Dad’s inability to get a job due to a combination of ageism and a limited resume that only had “business owner” on it…
Despite Dad’s losing money on his attempts to make money which caused him to spiral into further depression…
Despite Dad’s particularly tough realizations that he’d spent our entire childhoods working only to have  his legacy for his family disappear and fear that he might well have lost his family into the bargain…

They still fought for their pride, for my sake, for our survival. Dad kept searching and digging, working odd jobs for old friends who would find something they needed his skills for.  Mom was willing to put up with the worst of environments as long as she was helping me with a bit of cash at month’s end.  They were driving themselves crazy (and me, into the bargain) for nearly nothing in return but to spare me an hour of work and I couldn’t stand it, so I took everything over.  But as long as they could, they tried.  We were at emotional cross purposes, all fighting, pulling each other away from our positions to protect one another from pain.

Of course they made mistakes. Desperate people make mistakes. Desperate people care.

Mom’s health deterioration was jagged.  Reduced to menial jobs, places where supervisors and coworkers were abusive, she was shorted on wages because her mental and physical health was diminishing in loops and fades; she couldn’t truly function or keep a job. Until I made her stop, she was taking every job she could secure. Even then she tried strongarming my dad into taking her to job interviews when I was away even though she wasn’t capable of working because she was so pained about my working such long hours.  She didn’t peacefully accept the loss of her functioning.

My parents are both very grateful to me for my help and communicate that.  I’ve no doubt of that just as they know I love them and will always care about them.  It may be a frustrating cognitive dissonance to know that and reconcile it with their actions toward my brother that ripple back to me.  But at the same time, I understand because just as much as they love me, they love him.  He is their child every bit as much as I am.

(More their child, ahem. Nope, not bitter, grumble grumble.)

In all seriousness, I love and respect my parents because for better or worse, they did the best they could with what they had.  They always strove to be strong and good people.  The choices and mistakes they made out of love for their other child that I disagree with doesn’t change the fact that they also raised and cared for me deeply and deserve to be well-cared for as best I can manage.  If the circumstances were different, if they were a bit less unlucky in their health and business manager (the thrice-cursed embezzler!), perhaps things would be different but that doesn’t necessarily follow that different is better.

Perhaps some people might say that having supported them for the past ten years as I have was too much and “enabling” but there’s a hugely important factor:  You can’t compare my brother to my parents because they are completely different people.

He might have worked all of three years in his total of 30+ years of life.  They’ve worked two lifetimes. He’s done little but been an influence in my life.  My parents both gave me life and nurtured me, succored me when I was ill, and would still do anything they could to ease my way now if they were able.

Supporting my brother would be enabling because he could, if he chose, find a way to earn a living and support himself. My mother is no longer medically able to care for herself or be independent and my dad has to care for her around the clock. Supporting them is a matter of their survival as the clock on their finding and holding jobs has long run out.

These past years have been challenging and I know it will take quite a lot more planning and resources to provide for them in their later years.  But it’s not really a question for me whether or not I’ll do it.

How I’ll manage it has been a question posed a time or two (thousand).

Getting them safely into a protected home environment where idio-sib can’t moosh in with them is only the first in many steps we’ll have to take to get there since living together’s not really an option.

Getting back to the question: how much should I (we) support them?  Well, no amount of money in the bank is worth the loss of my parents from my life, forgotten and uncared for. And PiC, bless his heart and soul, is on board even though I’ve only newly introduced him to Ship Support the Parents as it’s been such a private journey for so long.

Their basic needs will always be provided.  They won’t be living in luxury. I can’t afford that unless y’all decide I’m a genius blogger, share this with millions of your friends and I become the next dooce.com. Hardy-har. But they will live in safety. They will always have enough to eat. They should always have some form of safe transport and access to medical care.  The cost, even now, is stiff.  Each time a situation or a crisis arises, I have to evaluate the situation to see what can be afforded or what the right solution might be given the circumstances and the resources remaining for the year.  I hate that I can’t simply wave a wand or a card and throw money at the problems, sometimes.

They try to help in their own way, though I’d not asked for these things. They don’t go anywhere they don’t have to, unless it’s very local so as not to use gas, and they don’t go out to eat, ever. I think they’re doing their very best to show in their daily lives that they respect how hard I work to provide.

The cost in the future will be even higher so as ever, PlanningEarningSaving.  Investing. It all keeps the reality of needing a strong financial edifice at the forefront of my mind.

In the end, everyone has to answer this question for themselves in the context of their own lives and their own finances and their own relationships with whomever they may be called upon to support.

If they hadn’t raised me with love and respect, if they hadn’t treated me with so much care, humor and just plain sanity during my formative years so that for those brief moments before everything went to mush we had a great relationship, this would likely be a very different story.  And I know for many of you, or for many of the first time readers who came to the other posts, it is a different story.  That’s ok. It makes sense. This is what makes sense for us.

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Posted in: budget busting, Budgeting, family challenges, plans

10 comments

10 Responses to “How Much Help Should An Adult Child Give Parents?”

  1. eemusings says:

    Right now, it’s killing me that my US trip can’t happen this year, cause I want to fly right there and crush you in a hug.

  2. Grace. says:

    Wow! A truly thoughtful, wonderful post, and especially appropriate on Mother’s Day. Don’t worry about your occasionally ungracious thoughts aimed in your brother’s direction. You are doing the right thing–you don’t always have to feel grateful that you are, it’s enough that you do it.

  3. Sense says:

    Your parents sound like they are well meaning and lovely people who are doing the best that they can–just like their daughter. You’ve done them proud. I wish I would win some money so that I could send some your way and make life easier for all of you. (also, I click on & read your posts before I click on dooce’s. :))

  4. Shelley says:

    My mom and dad separated when I was 17. They were in their late 50s. Mom had worked in the past as a photographic colourist but had spent the last few years looking after her elderly, senile mother-in-law. This had pretty much broken her health, she didn’t drive and so couldn’t work outside the house. My dad paid her money each month to support her in their house and he went to live in his parents’ house, now that they were both gone. When he was suddenly forced into early retirement before he could draw any social security, he could barely afford to support himself working as a taxi driver so he asked if I could supplement my mom’s income until he got back on his feet. I did this without question. In fact it was the motivating factor in going for a better paid job. The boss I was leaving questioned why I should be responsible for my Mom: because I was her child – her only child. My parents were as good to me as they knew how to be; I had a good childhood. I totally understand why you would want to support your parents now. Shame about the brother. I think your situation would make me more than a little crazy at times. You’re doing a good job! Funny enough, when my Dad got his social security he turned around and paid me back all the money I’d given Mom over the last two years, something I never expected.

  5. Anonymous says:

    You have a huge amount of love and strength in you. And I’m sure this came from your parents and your grandma whom I’ve read about in your blog. Much more love and hugs to you, Revanche!!

    You inspire me in more than one way.

    Your parents are lucky to have you and you are lucky to have had such parents. Now about the brother, hmmmmm… I’ll pray for him to wake up and take charge of his own life.

    – Kay

  6. You have incredible mental strength to take this on. You are an inspiration because you show everyone that anything is possible.

    I too am in a situation where both my parents are sickly. Sometimes, I feel as though there is no end and I can’t bring myself to face them because it hurts too much to see them in their current state.

    I know that it takes a lot of mental strength to carry your whole family on your shoulders and you are doing an awesome job! We are both very lucky that we have a chance to take care of our parents.

    Hugs**

  7. Jimmy says:

    Great post! I’ve been thinking a lot about this topic lately. And sorry to be a downer, but children owe their parents nothing and everything they help with is completely voluntary. Life is no picnic and I subscribe to the belief that having children is a selfish act above everything else. We did not chose to be here nor should we be punished for someone else’s decision. Although, I do help my parents a little bit financially, out of love, but it does not come without some resentment and the constant thinking of how irresponsible they were in having me and my siblings.

  8. They’re amazing people! It sounds like they’ve earned whatever help you can give them.

    BTW, has that brother of yours ever been tested for ADHD or…I don’t know…maybe for bipolar disorder or some such? Maybe he has a condition that could be treated?

  9. oilandgarlic says:

    I could have been in the same boat as you, but luckily my parents managed to save toward the end of their working days. For years, I thought that I would have to save for myself and future family plus my parents. I don’t know how you do it and I’m very impressed.

  10. […] I had to dig in for the long term and make the best of it. […]

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