In 1986, Whitney Houston released a song called “Greatest Love of All”, in which she sang:
I believe the children are our future
Teach them well and let them lead the way
Show them all the beauty they possess inside
Give them a sense of pride to make it easier…
Recently, I visited my dad, who is now 71 years old, for the second time in 9 years. The other time was 18 months before, around the time my mom died. Living by himself, he has braved household chores to the point of mastery, including some excellent cooking, which makes him really proud.
My sisters come around often enough, or he visits them and spends time with the grandkids, after which he sends me some pictures, possibly to share and possibly to make me jealous (admittedly, this is THE major drawback of living away from where you grew up – not having the extended family around).
While I was with my dad, it got me thinking about the times when there is nobody around and everything goes all quiet. I noticed that, although he is quite fit, he is not getting any younger and his stories gradually contain more and more doctors and medical checkups (“Just routine, you know. After all, I am 71 already. But they’ve found nothing”). I also noticed some medication boxes on the kitchen table (“This one is just a low dose, because I keep myself balanced by eating well”).
But what next? What will happen in a few years?
A friend of mine told me how he had taken care of his old man when Alzheimer’s was claiming his brain bit by bit. He got to the point where he bathed his father, but his father didn’t know who he was and was embarrassed by the invasion of his privacy. My friend needed all the love he could muster and all the patience in order to deal with the kicking and screaming fully-grown child that could once carry him on his shoulders and order him around.
At this point in our history, physical decline during old age is a fact of life. We start off naked and defenseless, knowing nothing and needing help with everything, we grow up to acquire skills and develop our abilities, and then we lose all our powers and become dependent again, sometimes losing all our wisdom as well.
Sure, nobody likes to talk about it or even think about it, because it is unpleasant, but we will grow old. And when we grow old, our kids are the most likely to take care of us, so we need to be nice to them.
If there is one thing we must work really hard to inspire in our children, it is deep and unwavering love for us, so that when the time comes and we need them as they needed us, they will come and they will stay and they will comfort us on our last days and they will help us feel worthy and respected and cherished.
So no matter how old your kids are right now, look at them as if your life depended on them already and love them with everything you have in your heart and then some. Stay close to your kids and listen to them and comfort them when they need you. Teach your kids about compassion by showing it to them. Lend your kids a helping hand, so that they learn to help.
Of course, planning to get out kids’ help when we are old makes us feel selfish, almost conniving. Even writing this, it gave me the shivers. Whatever happens later on in life, this should not be our main reason for showing love to our kids or for spending time with them. Our kids deserve our attention and wisdom no matter what happens, but still…