There’s a new challenge looming for the American family. It’s not that it’s totally new, it’s just that our ever-increasing age expectancy is making it more prevalent. We are living longer, which means the American family is going to be tasked with difficult decisions concerning their elderly parents. We need to be training our children about this new Life and sacrifice.
Families during biblical times knew that their elderly parents were going to be their responsibility. For most it meant the grandparents were living in their homes during their latter days. In fact, their homes were probably the same homes their parents raised them in. It was understood that they were going to take care of their parents.
We have become so far removed from the concept of three generation homes that the thought of helping our elderly parents in anyway seems like a sacrifice. In reality it’s not only a family responsibility, it is an obvious Life . We’re looking at a new family phenomenon where today’s parent is caught or sandwiched between helping their newlywed children get started versus helping their newly infirmed parents finish up. It’s not just a decision about the expenditure of time for the sandwiched generation, but also financial recourses.
These decisions and seeming sacrifices all begin with training – training our children to understand the priority of family and the biblical mandate to honor our parents. Honor your father and mother is found in more places in the Bible than just the Ten Commandments. To honor is not just an attitude, it’s an action.
In this season of life, the above has become a reality in the Barnes household. As I watch my wife Rosemary spend many days each month driving two-hundred miles from home to take care of her parents, we are all learning lessons as a family.
We’re learning to do things without hearing the words “thank you”. That has caused an adjustment of my motives. Why are we doing what we’re doing? Simply because it’s what God has placed in front of us to do.
We’re learning to put aside vacations because Rosemary’s parents can’t be left alone. Again, it’s a re-adjustment of my motives and the confronting of my selfishness.
As the sandwiched parent, I’m being taught things that are valuable and transferable… things that I need to teach my own children. I’m learning that I don’t control as much of my life and schedule as I thought I did. God is in control and only He knows the plans He has for me (See Jeremiah 29:10). Today’s child is being taught that he is the master of his own destiny. Not so! In fact, not even close! “Dad why are you not on vacation,” a child asked. We were able to tell them that this is not the summer that goes as planned – this is the summer that goes as God planned.
Without a doubt, I’m being taught what Jesus meant when He told His listeners that the number one commandment is to love God with every bit of your being (Luke 10:27). Then He went on to tell them that this is what will motivate each of His followers to love their neighbors as much as they love themselves. Wow! That’s huge! To help His listeners he gave them the illustration of the Samaritan changing his schedule to help a person right in front of him. The Samaritan stopped his journey and his plans to help the person God put on the side of the road, right in front of him. And it’s important to note that the Samaritan didn’t wait to be thanked. His motivation was to express his love for God.
We are in a time when our parents are living longer than their bodies and minds can carry them. They are people on the side of our personal roads of life. We are also in a time when our children are being raised to be the center of their own universe. This is the time to train them to sacrifice themselves for the sake of their grandparents who helped get them here.
What I’m learning is that I’m more self-centered than I thought. I’m learning that I didn’t really realize that taking care of the generation that took care of me was not at all in my plans. I’m also learning that this is an area of parenting I did not teach … but it’s never too late to begin.
It’s time to teach our children what it means to love God. It means we are mediate to express that by honoring our elderly enough to love them by serving their needs.
Dr. Bob Barnes is the president of Sheridan House Family Ministries. He and his wife, Rosemary, are authors and speakers on marriage and family issues. To learn more about Pastor Bob Barnes, go to www.sheridanhouse.org.