Dear Carolyn: I have an aging father with a health condition that is likely terminal, with few treatment options.
I live far from him and my mother. My half siblings don’t make much effort to see him. My parents are left with little social support and so many painful unknowns. in caring for him.
I’ve been using all my spare vacation time to see them to the exclusion of visits with my husband’s family and of time for my husband and me alone. My parents refuse to move closer because my dad is inordinately attached to his doctors. I can’t move home because my husband and I both work in a field where we wouldn’t find jobs elsewhere.
How do I do right by my parents and give them the time with my husband and me that they so enjoy and deserve? How do I do right by my relationship and not make my life all about my parents’ needs?
The first and most important step is to redefine “do right by.” The new version has to account for the limits on your energy, flexibility, options and the number of hours in a day. You cannot fix this or make it OK. You can only be loving and present.
“Present” isn’t a typo: You can be there without traveling. Call, video chat, send care packages, make photo albums, handle any chores for them that you can by phone or online. Research support groups and respite care for your mom.
Yes, your husband’s family deserves your attention, too — but surely they can be patient or come to you during your family’s crisis. Another key step: letting go of the idea that you bear sole responsibility for lifting your parents’ spirits. It’s not up to you to make their choices more palatable to them.
Think of the near future as a phase where you allot X time daily, Y monthly, to this crisis.