The Daily Chuck: Caring for Our Own
Rating: 5.00

When I was in Dallas recently, I talked with an old friend. I always enjoy spending time with him. He’s the most insightful guy on financial questions I’ve met anywhere in America.

After scaring me to death talking about the national debt, he waxed philosophical for a moment. He said, “I’m in a very good position. I make a lot of money, and I really like what I do. My wife has a mother and father both on Medicare and Social Security. My parents are on it. I sat down one night to think about how much the people in my family were costing taxpayers. And I realized that I could easily afford to pay for those benefits. But the thought never occurred to us or anyone else that we ought to.”

Wow! Did he ever hit home with me. I remember when I was growing up during the Depression, there was no such thing as assisted living or nursing homes. Relatives came home to be tended when they were sick and when they were getting close to death. I remember when I was 10 years old, my grandmother and grandfather came to live with us. My grandmother got very sick with terminal cancer. My mother cared for her day and night, and never complained. I watched my mother suffer; she was taking care of the house and taking care of me. My grandmother would moan in pain, and I would hear her because I was in the next room. My mother had moved her mother into her and my dad’s bedroom because it was more comfortable.

The whole point was that we never considered this a sacrifice—this is what you did for your immediate family, and to some degree your extended family.

I know two middle-class couples—one is upper middle-class—and in both cases it was the wife or the mother who needed total care. So, at the counsel of financial advisors, they transferred everything out of her name—this is in two cases now—put her in the home, and she started drawing Medicaid. Were they wrong?

It’s really an interesting ethical question. When they stripped her of her assets, were they then making an honest statement when they said she had no assets? But the bigger question is, what is our philosophy now as a nation? Do we take care of our own, or do we pawn everybody off on Uncle Sam, who is bankrupting us?

The biblical model here is quite clear. If we don’t take care of our own family, we’re acting sinfully. It seems to me that before we turn to the government, we need to do everything in our power to meet our own personal and family needs. Yet even as I write this, the words sound foreign and strange because they are so out of keeping with the way we do things now.

I know my own mother lived in dread that she would be put in a home. I told her that I would see that she was well cared for. She died in an accident, and she never had a chance to see whether I would do that. Nor was I ever put to the test.

This is a great debate. This ought to take place in the church. Pastors ought to preach about this. We ought to start talking about our responsibility to the family so that we really take care of our relatives in need rather than just dumping them on Uncle Sam’s doorstep.


Circling back around on caring for elderly
Note: Chuck did a BreakPoint radio commentary on this today and there is a "Speak Out with Chuck" post on this topic today. The Speak-Out link is: If you go to the commentary page (audio and text) there are quite a few comments there as well.

To Lee and Jason - good responses! I'll address them. To Lee's point about "which set of parents" - in my experience, it was whoever helped the kids build the house! I lived in two different houses like this, one a two story and one a three story. In one case, the lady who built the house put her mother on the first floor, herself and family on the second floor and the third floor got rented out - which is how I was there. In the other case, the grandparents were on the first floor and the son and his family had been on the second floor, but built a house next door and rented out the upstairs. In that case it might have been that the grandfather had built the house for his son, as it was an older house. I have seen many other combinations, but often the generations would live together and build together. And yes, some of the houses were big and expensive, and most did not build until they had saved over many years. Later they rented floors out, made money back and passed them down to future generations.

Jason, I see your point on migration and mobility, but I also have lived around people who have left their home countries to live here in the US. They usually go to great pains to get their parents over here as well and, yes, they often live in the same house!

I still believe we need to recapture some of that philosophy of caring for our parents if we can.
"I lived in Austria and Germany for many years and the practice there was for a young or middle-aged couple building a new home to build a separate floor for one set of parents."

Just *one* set, Alan? I can only imagine the arguments between the husband and wife over *which* in-laws will move in... ;-)

You're right; "caring" involves much more than money. But isn't a financial commitment a necessary condition, even if not a sufficient one?

Of course, we actually *are* making a financial commitment, via taxes that fund Medicare and Social Security. Or at least 50% of us are. What's missing is seeing that as a result, some dear elderly person is given something more than mere professionalism. I.e., the care can be delivered perfunctorily, and those of us who pay have no connection to the one receiving the care, either emotionally or in seeing a result of our "giving". Imagine, instead, if some group sent out letters like PFM does, where we could read stories of how our tax dollars gave someone a happy old age. And yes, it's hard to imagine that old age being better than it would by being surrounded with a loving family.

P.S.: *New* homes, in Austria and Germany? And sufficiently affordable to allow adding an entire floor? Wow.
"Most of the world does not operate this way, however, including much of the non-Christian world. What is up with that?"

Mobility. America was an automotive nation before Europe and it was a migrant nation before that.
There are other issues as well
"Caring" means more than money. The Biblical injunction to care for our [his] own in I Timothy means more than just provide money. How many mothers [widows] or fathers or both only want a child to pay the bills for a long term care facility, with little other contact? Many would rather die. Such care may well be part of the solution, but certainly not all of it.

I think our society has a much deeper issue with learning how to "care" for parents. I lived in Austria and Germany for many years and the practice there was for a young or middle-aged couple building a new home to build a separate floor for one set of parents. That way they were close enough to care for and spend time with them but still separated by a 6 inch concrete floor to ensure some necessary privacy. We have long abandoned inter-generational living in our country, with our jokes about "two weeks with the mother-in-law" etc. Most of the world does not operate this way, however, including much of the non-Christian world. What is up with that?
So the whole "Colson would walk over his own grandmother to get Richard Nixon elected" affair probably brought back painful memories. I'm very sorry that that was the case.

In the debates over the proposed GOP budget, we hear repeatedly that cutting Medicare and Social Security would leave senior citizens to use up all their own personal funds, and then be destitute. Their relatives (and friends, and fellow church members) are never even mentioned as a possibility.

Most of us who were born after 1950 have grown up in Lyndon Johnson's "Great Society". We've been enculturated to believe that "retirement" means "begins to draw Social Security and Medicare benefits". It can be challenging to simply think that there are alternatives, much less to act upon them.

It seems we have institutionalized the avoidance of personally caring for parents. It's amazing to think that such indifference is bankrupting us. Apparently God takes 1 Timothy 5:8 much more seriously than we believe He does.

My son is permanently disabled, and receives both Medicare and Social Security. Only recently have my wife and I begun to emerge from the financial issues that arose from his accident. We're now in a position to think about the options for caring for him in the long term, as well as thinking about our own retirement. Regarding the latter, I find it easy to say I don't want to "become a burden" to my other children, but also easy to make myself a burden to taxpayers. At the same time, I'm very bothered that my son is a burden to them. I definitely need to ponder this more.

How did we as a nation transition from "Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country" to "I paid taxes into Social Security and Medicare, and now THEY OWE ME"??

Thank you, Chuck. You're right; we should be talking much more about this, especially as believers.
This is s great article that raises many issues including ethical ones.
Just in time for Doing the Right Thing. One thing not raised is what is the responsibility of the Christian family when a Christian needs this kind of help. With my wife's recent illness not only was I able to care for her at home until her death but I received alot of help from my earthly family and my Christian family to which I am eternally grateful. Do Christians have a responsibility as well?

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