“Ask a Priest: How Can Both I Aid Elderly Parents and Keep a Spouse Happy?”

Q: My parents are in desperate need of someone to take care of them. I have been traveling 10 hours to be with them for a week once a month. This is not enough. I wish I could be with them and take care of them. My husband has been understanding, but I think I’m pushing the envelope of his tolerance. I’m so torn — I love them all. I feel that I’m not honoring my parents for all they’ve done for me and not respecting my marriage promise. God help me to do the right thing. There are other family members who are unable or unwilling to help. – R.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: My heart goes out to you. Yours is not an uncommon situation nowadays. You are probably feeling as though you need to travel two different paths, neither of which you want to abandon.

Unfortunately there is no simple solution. This is the kind of problem you need to take one day at a time.

As for pushing the envelope with your husband, it might be good to just keep a dialogue open with him. People can sacrifice a lot if they see a reason for it and if they know their own feelings are being taken into account.

As for the relatives who aren’t helping, here it might be good to look for ways to nudge them to take on more responsibility. Sometimes it takes a while for people to shift their thinking. Your constant reminders might be a way to goad their conscience.

Keep an eye out for alternatives, too. Perhaps there are people closer to your parents who could check in on them occasionally, maybe someone from the parish.

In the longer term there might be the chance of alternative housing for your parents, such as an assisted-living center. A lot of this involves a process. No one relishes the thought of, say, leaving his or her home of 20 or 30 or 50 years. Yet day by day the changing situation (declining health, etc.) can prompt people to reconsider options they wouldn’t have thought of five years ago. Things change. Attitudes change.

In situations like this it is important to accept one’s own limitations. A lot of uncertainty surrounds these kinds of challenges. If you expect yourself to be able to find a perfect solution, you might be putting too much pressure on yourself. We can only make a decent effort to do the best we can under the circumstances. God won’t ask the impossible of us. Take comfort in knowing that your efforts to keep doing what you can are already pleasing to the Lord, and he understands the challenges and limitations.

In the meantime keep praying for your parents and loved ones. Your work of charity toward them is probably a beautiful example for others. It is probably one of the qualities your husband admires in you.

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