Parental pains signal future challenges to love

Periodically, my father will theatrically wince when I enter a room, look sadly at me, and point to his arm, adorned with a brace his doctor gave him for tennis elbow. With parental humor, he tries to make me feel guilty for this badge of increasing maturity, since he happened to first feel the pain immediately following our anti-climatic imitation of a tennis match last summer.

Of course, all of our parents will get these aches and pains sooner or later, and we will likely not pay them much attention. Yet there is a phenomenon, noted by the late great humorist Erma Bombeck, the Christian writer Dr. James Dobson and others, that will push the limits of our emotions and will test our human potential to love far more than any college exam tested our academic potential to learn.

Very simply, as our parents age, we will be called upon, willingly or unwillingly, to "parent" those who parented us.

Those of us who have been blessed with strong examples of parental love will find our parents a tough act to follow. We will feel awkward and frustrated, woefully inadequate at serving our parents as well as they served us. And we will feel sad that they will need us then as much as we need them now.

Others, for one reason or another, harbor deep resentment toward their parents. They have a special challenge to love far better than the rest of us. They must love those who likely did not show them love. They, too, will feel awkward and frustrated at their task, more so because of their own old wounds.

Based on readings of current research and on personal experience, I have concluded that caring for elderly individuals is a challenging but rewarding process of intelligently weighing the options, selecting a nursing home (if appropriate), and compassionately accepting and adjusting to the changes.

In brief, placing dependent parents in a nursing home is not the only option, and it may not be appropriate, especially if it is a selfish decision to avoid directly caring for them. For example, some families, after honestly evaluating their options, choose to invite their parents to live with them and others hire home assistants for them if they are still somewhat independent.

Regardless of the living arrangements, compassion is vital. Just as we often needed to be comforted as children, our parents will need our comforting as they age. Perhaps some parents may want to be hugged, or may enjoy the company of a friendly pet. Also, we must really listen to what they are saying with acceptance. No one likes others to discount personal emotions or patronize.

Loving and being loved can and should be the most rewarding "job" of all. It is what makes all the other mundane tasks we must do worthwhile. It is the great repairer and equalizer. This is why it is very frustrating to see so many who behave as if "taking themselves out of the center of the universe" (as it has been put) for a time means they are being "oppressed" or that they are "losing their rights."

Maybe we should let the children lead us into the future. After all, they love so much more freely than any of us do and often live quite happily, despite their lack of "education." Indeed, one can easily believe that little girls are better off before they are taught that they are victims and that they are owed something by their peers, and that little boys are better off before they are taught to pay others a tinny imitation of true respect. Children will whine and children will hog the toys, but they can overcome these strains of selfishness with maturity. So can those of us who call ourselves "grown up."

Clarification: In my previous column condemning Arizona's marijuana proposition, Proposition 200, I claimed that it eased sentencing on drug pushers. The pertinent part of the ballot briefly states that the proposition requires the "entire sentence to be served by persons who commit violent crimes while on drugs, changing sentences for persons convicted of possession or use of controlled substances..." (emphasis mine). This clarifies the language, but does not change my argument that the initiative makes marijuana more accessible even to those who have no medical justification for use of the dangerous substance. I also stand by the rest of my column's assertions, which are thoughtfully based on credible medical authority.

Kristen Roberts is a pre-education sophomore who believes that America benefits from those who "tell it like it is," while offering more compassionate (if unpopular) alternatives. She also believes in admitting and correcting any errors made in that attempt. Her column, 'Life in Balance,' appears every other Thursday. Her homepage can be found at http://www.u.arizona.edu/~knr.

By Kristen Roberts (columnist)
Arizona Daily Wildcat
April 10, 1997

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