“Ask a Priest: Should I Prepare to Care for Elderly Parents or Look for a Husband?”

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Q: I am wondering if you could help me in discerning a vocation quandary. I have very elderly parents who I live near, who may need help in the not-so-distant future in terms of caregiving. Currently I am on a Catholic dating site in the quest to find someone, as I sense I have a vocation to marriage. Candidates are normally found to be a distance away, and I’m currently getting to know a man halfway across the country by means of phone and e-mail. We are hoping to meet in the future. Where do my duties lie — in fulfilling my vocation to marriage and its pursuits, or to my parents in the event that I must take care of them? Although I have four other siblings, none are free to provide the care that my parents may need. And if I were to take care of them, I may be 50 years old by the time I would be free to pursue a vocation. Thank you for your time. -S.S.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: Your concern for your parents is admirable. It is helpful to ask, first and foremost, what God is asking of you at this time of your life. It’s natural and healthy to be interested in marriage. It is also important that we respond to the people around us who need help.

Your choice seems to be between pursuing a potential spouse through a dating service, and helping your parents who will soon need help. I am not sure that one excludes the other, though both would complicate the other.

You might want to consider a few points. First, the person you are in contact with lives halfway across the country. Is it realistic that you will be able to develop a deep relationship with this person via the Internet and phone? At some point you would need to spend time together. And if there is a basis for marriage, would he move to your town, or would you move to his?

Let’s say that you married. No matter where you live, your parents would still be getting older and eventually would be in need of care. What would happen then? Would your spouse be ready if you had to take an active role in caring for your parents?

Second, the Fourth Commandment requires us to honor our parents. In this case honor would involve helping them in their old age. This is a scenario that seems likely to approach, sooner or later. Your relationship with your dating-service friend, on the other hand, seems more contingent. Maybe this will influence the weight you give to one option or the other.

Yet, the two options need not be “either-or.” They can be “both-and” — meaning that marriage and taking care of your parents is a possibility. The key would be to speak with your friend and let him know the situation. Ask him if he would be prepared in case you have to dedicate time to caring for your parents. For instance, would he be willing to relocate to your area? Or if you move to his area, would he be willing to see you return to your parents for long stretches of time?

I’m not sure if you are thinking of assisted-living arrangements for your parents. Such arrangements can be expensive, and possibly they aren’t an option. In any case your parents’ deteriorating situation is one that you might have to deal with sooner than later, unless one of your siblings can step up to the plate. But that doesn’t seem to be an option, either, from what you wrote.

Another option is to look for a companion locally, possibly through the parish or through charity work or pro-life organizations — anyplace where your chances of meeting a good man are improved. But, again, he would need to know your situation and how that could affect a marriage. In the meantime, keep praying about this. I will include you in my intentions at Mass.

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