Do Your Kids a Favor: Write Down Your Expectations

By Marsha Kay Seff

August 18, 2008 5 min read

I received this sweet note from a daughter the other day:

"For some time now, I have been reading your wonderful column. I have made copies of various articles for reference. My mother has passed, but I am putting copies of the articles in a notebook I have prepared for my daughters, in the eventuality of my needing care. Both are wonderful career women with young children. I want to make my care as easy as possible for them. ... "

What a great idea.

If I had children, I'd love to tell them now about the things that might make my dotage easier for all of us. Here are some of my thoughts:

For one thing, I'd never make them promise they would keep me out of an assisted-living or skilled-nursing facility. That's not a fair promise; nobody can predict the future.

Sometimes, no matter how hard adult children and their families try, placement becomes the best option. Not only could it be a godsend for the stressed-out family, but it might also be best for Mom or Dad. Despite the family's love, some older folks, especially those with increasing dementia, are better off in a retirement home with residents with similar needs and professionals equipped to care for them.

If I needed to move to a home and I was still capable of participating in the selection, I'd like to have a vote. I'd ask my children to do most of the legwork and narrow my choice to three places. Then, I'd like to eyeball each one, maybe have a meal at each.

If I'm not safe alone at home and I'd really prefer to stay put, I'd like my kids to consider hiring a home-care agency. If I still could, I'd want to be involved in the hiring process. Because this person would be underfoot in my house, it would be nice if I helped choose.

I'd give my children permission to confiscate the car keys when it was time. I've seen far too many older friends driving past the point of safety.

I'd like my kids to remember who I was in my prime — at least on my good days. Though I'd trust them to do the right thing by me, I'd hate for them to swoop down and take over my life any more than necessary. After I've lost much of the control over my life, I'd hate to lose my children's respect, too. After all, I'll always be the parent.

I'd want them to remember that I love chocolate and pizza. When all I have left is looking forward to treats, I hope they don't force me to stomach icky vegetables, steak and salads. I don't eat that way now, and I don't want to eat that way later.

If I need to move, I'd hope my children would pack my favorite photos, mementos and clothing. Maybe my favorite recliner. I love to shop, and I'd hope they would get me to the thrift stores at least once a week. If there were no room in my closet, I'd ask them to rotate my clothes. Just because I'm old, I wouldn't ever want to dress like an old lady.

I realize the importance of a power of attorney for financial matters and an Advance Health Care Directive. If I hadn't already completed these steps, I'd do it for my kids. It wouldn't be fair to make them guess what my wishes were and not even have the authority to carry them out. I wouldn't want to be kept alive by extraordinary means, and I'd hope my kids wouldn't feel guilty following my wishes. I'd wish they'd give me a big hug and kiss and send me to my reward.

If I had children, I'd write down all my wishes now and sign the paper. That way, when I'm too old to recall my best intentions, my children could show me my wish list and remind me. And even if I no longer understood, they would have tangible evidence of what I'd once hoped their continuing love could do for me.

Most of all, I'd hope that after I'm gone they take a big breath and get back to their own lives full time. My legacy would be making them proud that they helped me on my final journey, stronger because they knew they did the best they could. When they thought of me, I would hope they smiled and laughed and, despite the final stresses, remembered me with love.

Marsha Kay Seff writes about issues and strategies involving older parents. Contact her at [email protected]

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