A Modest Proposal: A New National Lottery for Aged Parents by Margo Howard

So many boomers today, along with some above and below that age cohort, are having to deal with aging and failing parents — many with dementia. More than the time and money that must be expended, there is a great emotional cost. Not only is there sorrow about the downward trajectory of once vital people, but relationships of parents and children are often fraught with historical agita and angst. Parent-child interactions often have a longstanding prickly, if not neurotic overlay. (This does not improve with age.) Not to put too fine a point on it, mothers and daughters experience particular tensions. It is for this reason I’ve decided that a national lottery would remove some of the painful emotional elements that accompany caretaking, or at the very least making arrangements for same.

With a national lottery, similar in spirit to the office grab bag at Christmastime where people draw names for the exchange of little presents, I propose a voluntary lottery whereby people can enter their parent or parents. In return, they would get someone else’s elderly relative, and there would be so much less stress involved in making the preparations and executing a care plan.  Without the emotional attachments, things would be more efficiently done and the ordeal wouldn’t feel so personal — because you wouldn’t even know these people!

Support for this theory comes from my husband’s experience with his then-young sons. A group of families would go away for weekends, and they had a rule: no hiking with your own children. The smart person who suggested this rule knew — and it was borne out — that the children would behave much better, and with no whining, if they were not annexed to their own parents. Being with a family friend somehow made the kids more amenable to not being pains in the ass. So it is with this psychological principle in mind that I suggest a National Lottery for Aged Parents. There can be minimal heartbreak for people you don’t know. No old family dynamics will come into play. The old folks will be looked after in a businesslike manner. Emotions will not get in the way of doing what, objectively, is the best thing for them. The result will be that aging parents who need looking after will receive the proper attention … just not from their own kids.

I mentioned my proposal to a girlfriend who is looking after her demented mother, pre-death. Granted, the old girl is in a residential facility, but it’s still not easy. The only good thing about the situation, my friend says, is that her shrink is one block away from the dementia residence. While she, for one, likes the idea of my projected national lottery, she did remind me of an old fable where everyone in a little village is told to pack  their problems in one sack and bring it to a meeting in the village. Then all the sacks are thrown together in a circle, and the people are told they can pick any sack. In the end, every person picks the sack of problems he came in with. There’s even a saying about this fable: The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t. If this school of thought holds water, my idea for the lottery may not be so hot.

2 comments so far.

  1. avatar Chris Glass` says:

    I took care of a father-in-law with medical and dementia problems for quite a few years before he went into a Veterans Home. I would never have let someone else take over his care because they weren’t invested in him emotionally.

    We fought to get him care when he had a lung infection, prostate problems and pneumonia because in the opinion of some of the medical people we saw “he was old and it was about his time.” He may have been old but he still had feelings and knew he was ill and we knew he needed help. I am not a fan of euthanasia for convenience.

    If his care had been relegated to a well-meaning friend or stranger they might have felt they were doing us and him a favor by letting his life slip away. I believe that if the mind is intact and a person can think or feel it is not our place to play God. Aged relatives deserve to be with people who genuinely care about them.

    Being a caregiver is the hardest job you will ever have because there is no real off time except paid respite care and the only “help” you get is useless advice from people who have never stood in your shoes. It is 24/7 marathon of exhaustion at times. What makes us continue is the love we have for our families. We eventually chose a skilled facility for him because his care needs exceeded what we could provide at home.

  2. avatar CarolinaHiker says:

    Margo, on the surface, this proposal sounds brilliant. My siblings and I live thousands of miles from our mother who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. The problem is, there is a reason we live so far away……and have since we each turned 18. There is love between us all, and we do congregate for major holidays and events and manage to have good times, but the time spent together is always in small doses. I’ve noticed throughout my life that my friends can tolerate my mother far better than I can. And I’ve noticed the same of myself and other friends’ mothers.
    I understand exactly what you mean in your article. My mother has a caregiver, but I am spending much more time with her than I ever have. I can’t imagine someone having to do it full-time. They are angels. But could I trade for someone else’s parent? I doubt it. If only because that weird thing about how it’s easy to change your own baby’s diapers but not other’s works in the other direction.
    What I have observed is the difference in my mother’s mood (and the moods of my friends’ parents) when they are visited by anyone. No one wants to be alone…..even when they are visited by “strangers.”