Is it wrong for parents to stay in old-age homes?

BAPU SATYANARAYANA writes: More than a year ago, Master Hirannaiah bemoaned the influence of western culture, thus warping our values. He however conceded that there was a certain inevitability to the march of time but exhorted that, whatever be the compulsion, children should not banish their parents to old-age homes.

But look around you, and the reality is far removed from well-meaning rhetoric.

Old-age homes and orphanages are mushrooming all over the place. There is, indeed, a certain inevitability about it. In Mysore, for example, in most middle-class homes especially among the educated class, sons and daughters have to leave their city in search of jobs, or leave their country and go abroad to find greener pastures.

Even in the case when sons and daughters stay back, they opt for a nuclear family and live in a separate establishment. This results in parents having to live alone and fend for themselves though children, who still retain filial affection, may visit them on some festival days or during marriage anniversary and birthdays.

On the other hand, it must be conceded that parents who cling on to the old world values, often entertain unreasonable expectations from their children as a quid pro quo for what they have done. They lose no opportunity to describe how much “sacrifice” they have made in raising them, implying that in their old age it is the duty of the children to look after them and even tolerate their whims.

This stubborn streak only results in emotional outbursts and loss of tempers, resulting in even more frustration.

At the same time, it is not unusual to find sons who have their own families to look after suffering emotionally because they are caught in a bind and experience feelings of helplessness and sometimes even remorse in calmer times.

These type of conflicts take a heavy toll on everybody in the family. There are no easy solutions and ready-made answers and probably, on balance, wisdom should dawn on elders that the old order is changing and that it has to yield place to the new.

Then there are old and healthy parents who visit their children settled in America or England regularly. This is a mutually satisfying situation as the parents are able to maintain an emotional link with children and grandchildren till they become too old to bear the travails of travel.

Also, in the case of parents who have life threatening illness, no insurance company comes to their aid and hence at one point of time these frequent visits will stop.

In such a situation the only remedy for aged and ageing parents is to find a haven in old-age homes.

One cannot blame the children also for they have their life to live and it would be unrealistic of parents to emotionally blackmail them to come back to live with them and look after them. It must be admitted that there are cases when children do come home to look after the children at considerable sacrifice to their profession. However, such cases are rare for it implies both husband and wife share the same sentiments.

Also, in many cases the parents themselves opt to stay away from their children for in that case one doesn’t have tread on the toes of the other and parents too want to have their independaance. This is the reality of the march of time and both parents and children have to reconcile to this situation whatever be the consequeces.

Elders must realise the world belongs to the young and that they, in turn, will face the same situation when they grow old.

Probably many of these conflicts can be overcome if the parents can appreciate what the Lebanese-American writer Khalil Gibran says in Prophet on Children:

Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you,

And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them,

but seek not to make them like you.

For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.

The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,

and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.

Let our bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;

For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.