I admit—I have no earthly clue how much gray I have under all this hair color. I see hints of it every month or so and I rush out for the latest hair coloring product that promises to wash the tints of silver away. I, like many women, started coloring my hair when I was much younger and it has become a habit now. Although I will tell you, I once told my daughter I was going to let my hair grow in just to see how gray I really am and she was horrified. “Oh nooooo, you can’t do that. People think you are so much younger than you are,” she said. So I keep on hiding the gray.
As my baby boomer generation gets older, I am increasingly hearing stories of parental abuse and neglect of people my age and older. I remember my parent’s generation—a generation that planned for and expected to care for their parents. Today we buy expensive long-term care plans so that we won’t be a burden to our family or out of fear that our children won’t be there to care for us. Frequently it is women who feel especially trapped in these somewhat abusive situations just so they can maintain a relationship with their children and grandchildren.
The National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) provides statistics that indicate this is the largest population of over 65s in a decennial history. By 2050 approximately 20 percent of the US population will be over 65—at least 19 million will be 85 or older. They define abuse and neglect as “intentional actions that cause harm or create a serious risk of harm to a vulnerable elder by a caregiver or person in relationship with the elder.” They claim that most of those in such situations are women; women who won’t report out of fear that they will further be hurt or cast out by the family. I contend that abuse and neglect is not always intentional—it often is the result of children too busy or too concerned with their own lives to consider the needs of their aging parents.
Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. Exodus 20:12 ISV
I have seen friends of mine do everything they can to care for an aging parent. It is not easy for them and it requires a good bit of personal sacrifice on their part. They take parents to the doctors, they help with groceries, they take care of their cars, and they worry every day about balancing care for their parent and care for their family. They often neglect their own care because there just isn’t enough time in the day, week, or month to do for themselves. God promises a long life for these care givers but if the truth be told, they aren’t so sure they will have enough energy left to enjoy their later years.
And sadly I have seen people, mostly women, taken advantage of by their children. I have spoken with so many women lately whose children see them as glorified unpaid babysitters, as maids, as drivers, and free landlords. Many of these women find themselves alone because of divorce or the death of a spouse who did not leave them funds for the future. These children have lost respect for their parents because they are aging. Many of these women are living on very limited fixed income and some are unable to work because of health issues or because they are caring for a sick spouse. They endure foul language and abusively critical comments from their children and they take it so that they can maintain some semblance of a relationship. Sadly, much of what I have seen is coming from their daughters who most of us would expect to be the loving compassionate caring ones. It pains me to see children living life well and neglecting their parents or ignoring their parent’s financial needs.
To honor someone is to respect an individual and to treat them as if they have value and worth.
I wish I still had my mom around to care for. I may not have done as good a job at showing her my love and respect as I could have. I did try to care for her in my own way by taking her out to things I knew she enjoyed, by having her over, or by learning how she cooked certain things that I might carry on the family tradition. My sister was the real care giver. She gave up her job, a huge sacrifice for her own family, to care for my mother. She was the one there when she passed over. She was the one that took care of the funeral arrangements and made sure mom looked good! I know that if she had outlived my father one of us kids would have taken care of her. It would have been hard, but today I would give anything to have that opportunity.
So what can we do? Start by talking to your friends who may be in an abusive or neglectful situation. Be gentle in how you ask questions as they will likely be defensive and in denial. If you can help them for a period of time, offer your home until you can help them find a new safe place. Maybe they just need a few dollars to make it through the month. Give it to them in a way that is helpful. Give them a grocery card. Better yet, take them grocery shopping and pay the bill. They can’t fuss too much in line. Make a fuss over them! Be there. Listen. Hear. Most of our friends just want to be heard and to feel valued again. Find out where they can get help in your or their area and direct them. If it is a full-on physically abusive situation, contact NCEA or local government organizations and report the situation. You could be saving a life.
Part of just right living is to consider not only what is good for you, but how you can share your God-given gifts and talents for the betterment of others. NCEA has suggestions on how you can become more involved in your community. Maybe your church would want to hold seminars on this topic to raise awareness and to consider how they can help elders in and out of their congregations.
Let us not live just for ourselves but let us live that others may know God’s transforming love because we have shared it with them.