Jennifer and I have been married for just over 30 years and have seven children ranging from 16 up through 76 … what was that again?
We are in the position that many of our friends are also in: while we are coming to the conclusion of raising our own family (two more still living at home), we also have had my mother-in-law living with us for the past 11 years. We firmly believe that it is our responsibility to take care of our parents when they cannot do so any longer — out of respect for the pain that we caused them when growing up, but also to demonstrate respect for our children. Sounds great — right? Not so fast …
We have been a reasonably traditional family — with the normal give and take between the parental authority figures and the children trying to do as little work as possible. We tell them to clean their rooms and after a few tries on their own, we’ll go in and help shovel out the stuff so we can see what color the carpet really is. It’s a ballet, everyone has their part and knows their script, and things get done … mostly.
Let me say right here that I love my mother-in-law, and I have a deep respect for who she is and what she has accomplished in her lifetime, not the least of which was to raise my darling wife! She moved in with us as much out of convenience as anything else — she was living alone on the other side of the country, and we all thought it was best to merge our households and enjoy her remaining years as part of our large family. Years pass, her health declines, and we start hearing the dreaded word from her doctor: Alzheimer’s. It’s sad seeing her sit there, sometimes not remembering who the people are around her. Then came the falls … no serious injuries, but it’s only by God’s grace. Things need to be done to make things safer for her, but she doesn’t always agree (or understand), and she doesn’t like people messing with her stuff.
This is where the challenge lies: where is the line between respecting our parents and stepping in to do something for their own good — with our without their permission? While I have no problem going into one of my children’s rooms to do something that needs to be done, am I going too far doing the same thing in my mother-in-law’s room? I knew she wouldn’t want me to do it; and while she would not refuse me, it would be painful for both of us if I did it with her around … so while she was out tonight, I went in and removed several pieces of furniture that were creating a significant hazard for her moving in and out of the bedroom.
It was the right thing to do … but was I showing her the respect due my wife’s mother, or was I treating her as my seventh child?