How to Care for Our Elderly Parents
By Al Valdés
The later years of our parents’ lives give us the opportunity to honor them in a different way than we did when we were children. Back then, essentially, we had to do what we were told, as long as no law was violated or disobedience to God was implied. We knew the fifth commandment well (at least the first part): “Honor your father and mother. Then you will live a long, full life in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12). Now, as adults, we may be raising our own children. But what about our parents? What should we do now that they have aged and we have grown?
Show them love, patience and firmness
Age affects parents in different ways. Some slow down or cannot hear as well as they used to. Others want what they want when they want it! Some, sadly, play psychological games with their children that include guilt, control, or outright aggression. This type of parent requires supernatural, God-given patience. You have to love them and at the same time not allow them to unduly disturb your own life. Other parents get sweeter with age. We must allow them to do what they want, except sin! These last years give us many opportunities to take parents to eat what they want (taking their health into account) or go wherever they want. A family we know has made a conscious mission to please their aging parents, giving them any opportunity to enjoy themselves. And why not?
Enrich their spiritual life
The final years of our parents also provide ministerial opportunities for them. Mary Goss said to our church one Sunday: “Don’t bury me until I’m dead!” She learned to paint at the age of 70 and resented any diminished condition in the church due to age. As an elderly missionary lady, she led a group that helped younger women with difficult husbands–and saved the marriages. She lived through Paul’s instructions: “Similarly, teach the older women to live in a way that honors God. They must not slander others or be heavy drinkers. Instead, they should teach others what is good. These older women must train the younger women to love their husbands and their children, to live wisely and be pure, to work in their homes, to do good, and to be submissive to their husbands. Then they will not bring shame on the word of God.” (Titus 2:3-5). As for men, πρεσβύτερος, one of the Greek words for church leaders, means just that: old man! In other words, the church needs older, mature men at the helm. Now, if there are health problems that prevent physically demanding ministries, older believers can always serve the church through a prayer ministry.
Help them manage their finances
Finally, financial matters require precise and diplomatic attention. When the earning capacity of the elderly decreases the father-son roles are reversed. They took care of us in our childhood and now we have to return the favor. In a passage that deals with the care of widows, we read: “But if she has children or grandchildren, their first responsibility is to show godliness at home and repay their parents by taking care of them. This is something that pleases God.” (1 Timothy 5:4). For all of us, ensuring the availability of sufficient resources for your health must be the highest priority. But, it can also include making sure–tactfully–that parents have their wishes in order to distribute their assets. Verbal promises mean nothing unless they are certified in writing. These talks about money require consideration and prayer because of their potential for trouble–especially in some mixed families. Still it is important not to avoid them.
Our aging parents give us the opportunity to love them patiently, encourage them to participate in ministry, and minister to them regarding their finances. Famous American comedian Jerry Seinfeld observes that our last birthday party resembles our first. He observes: “you just kinda sit there… you’re the least excited person at the party. You don’t even really realize that there is a party… people have to kinda help you blow out the candles… you don’t even know why you’re doing it.” He also notes: “It’s also the only two birthday parties where other people have to gather your friends together for you. Sometimes they’re not even your friends… They bring ’em in, they sit ’em down, and they tell you–’these are your friends!” Based on this reality–both funny and sad–the truth is that our parents took care of us during our first birthdays, and now we have to take care of them in their last. God will surely bless us for it.