Dealing with the guilt of leaving our parents behind

By Sabrina Almeida

Almost everyone I’ve talked to feels it, the guilt of having left behind their parents in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Iraq or any other country that they have emigrated from. As age makes its presence felt, both with us and our elders, the feelings become even stronger prompting many to increase the frequency of their visits. parents
The emotions that stir within us are not necessarily prompted by what a parent may say. Many will actually try to hide their frailties or illness for the fear of disrupting their children’s lives. And that is the great sacrifice so many of them have made so that we may have a brighter future. The next conversation we have with our children about what we do for them should perhaps include the bit about how much of it their grandparents made possible.
It is hard to let a child go no matter the age. I know the feeling well with one in university and the other standing too close to its doors. I’m reminded of my mother who let her only child fly the coop. And while my visits certainly cheer her up, I can’t imagine how two weeks or even a month can make up for a whole year’s absence.

Does money compensate?

I’ve realized that everyone has a different way of dealing with this reality. While many send money and presents (as evidence of their better lives) some actually believe it will compensate for their presence. I know a family who choose to send money for medical expenses rather than spend some time with an ailing parent. While I’m sure it helped with treatment costs, their presence would have been more comforting to the patient.
Another gentleman couldn’t bring himself to see his father deteriorate so he chose to stay away. While the sick man soon passed away, the regret of not being with him will remain with his son for a lifetime.

Should other siblings shoulder your responsibility?

The situation takes a different turn when there are several children. Often each one expects the others to do their ”fair share”. I’m not sure what this means (possibly because I’m an only child) and was appalled when one lady told me she presented the family with a bill for looking after her father-in-law. Perhaps she was fed up because the children abroad took her for granted.

Does bring parents here to look after your children count? 

While grandparents simply adore the little ones, it’s not fair to expect them to shoulder child rearing responsibilities in their retirement either. I remember a lady who had her first child at the age of 40 tell me how difficult it was at that late age. Imaging doing it when you’re 60+ and in a strange country. Unfortunately elderly parents care too much for their children and grandchildren to protest. In fact they often feel compelled to help out. More importantly these visits do not count as a holiday for your aging loved ones. Taking them to see the tourist attractions a few times rarely make up for the hours spent locked up in child care.

What does quality time really mean?

We’re sold out on the phrase “quality time” and love to say that we set aside some daily or weekly for our children and spouse, even close friends. Somehow our parents who are in the home country tend to figure less prominently on that list until they have a “real need”. I am more inclined to believe that the term is an excuse for our absence at all other times, especially in our parent’s case where everyone else takes precedence over them.

It’s our presence not presents that counts!

During my past visits to India I have observed that the gifts and treats I take a long have less meaning for my family than my presence does. They prefer to sit and chat and just generally catch up on life. That’s what both they and I really miss. Being able to drop in and look in on each other, say hello or offer a hug when sick.
We’re truly stuck between two worlds and our parents often feel lonely and abandoned in theirs. Asking them to immigrate to a foreign land which will have them home bound for most of the year is hardly the solution. What can we do except to solemnly resolve to see them more often and while it still matters?

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