There's a “cute” saying that goes like this: “Be nice to your children... they will choose your nursing home.” I have never liked this quote. First, it seems to imply that parents should treat their children well because of selfish motives – rather than treating them well because it is the right thing to do. Second, this saying makes it sound like the parents' fate is beyond their control; not only are they headed for a nursing home, whether they like it or not, but also they don't even get to choose which nursing home they will stay in.
Most parents deeply love their children and make many sacrifices for them during their upbringing. Regardless of whether our parents are nice to us or not, and regardless of mistakes our parents may have made while raising us, it is our responsibility to do right by them in their hour of need. Our parents were there for us, and we should be there for them. Whenever possible, we should honor their final wishes. And if they dread the idea of going to a nursing home, we should do what we can to offer them alternative options of care.
Long before our parents grow old enough to be making decisions about assisted living, home care, etc, we should be there for them. We should ask ourselves what we can do for our parents, instead of looking for favors from them. When we were children, we were financially dependent on our parents. But when we reach adulthood, we should support ourselves through the good old-fashioned means of getting a job. And if we young adults continue living at home with our parents, we shouldn't expect to have a free ride; we should contribute to our parents financially, as well as helping out with chores around the house. If we lived with roommates, we'd never expect them to pay all the bills and do all the household work, so why should we expect this level of servitude from our parents?
When we are children, our parents care for us. As young people, we should begin caring for our parents in small ways, whether that means asking them how they are doing, or taking a heavy bag of groceries into the house before they can get to it. Now that we are no longer children, we should care for our parents, even while they care for us in their own ways. And when our parents grow older, we should realize that now is the time our parents need our care even more than we need theirs. When we were children, our parents were our caregivers; now it is time for us to step up to the plate and become theirs. And in doing so, we should value our parents' dignity.
When the balance of responsibility shifts from our parents providing our care, to us providing their care, we should remember that there is a fundamental difference between these two forms of care. When we were children, we needed a tremendous amount of care from our parents; after all, we came into this world with zero experience about anything. Our parents had to teach us about everything. But when our parents need our care, the dynamics are different; they have had a lifetime of experience already by the time they need our care. They are not children, and they shouldn't be treated like children.
Our parents deserve our respect. More than likely, when we were children, we could have given them more respect than we did. Perhaps we shouldn't have rolled our eyes at something they said, been ashamed to be seen with them when we were with our friends, or made them walk on eggshells so much when we were teenagers. Maybe we should make it clear to our parents that when they need us most, we will respect their wishes, so they will not spend a single day wondering which nursing home we will assign them to.