DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband and I find ourselves in the challenging position of being caregivers to elderly parents -- on both his side of the family and mine, and in different locations.
Of course, we are glad to be able to repay some of the kindness that our parents showed us when we were dependent on them. We are indeed grateful that we still have our loved ones in our lives and mentally alert, though physically disabled.
However, their growing needs have necessitated that we change some of our habits and priorities for the time being. As a result, invitations to social events and requests for help with long-term volunteer commitments must often be declined.
We are not angry at anyone. We just need to be free to respond to elder needs as they come up. People are becoming upset with us, though, and refusing to accept our polite “no, thank you” without detailed explanations.
When we do give in and briefly explain why our schedule does not allow us to make these commitments, we are sharply scolded. We are told that we should be so grateful to have our parents with us, and that the questioner only wishes he or she had our problems.
I am not complaining. I am not resentful. It is a private matter, and I did not want to talk about it at all! Watching loved ones’ health fail and seeing them become needy and depressed is sad enough without facing multiple lectures on what a terrible person I am as I try to do the right thing. Is there a pleasant way to shut down this automatic response to our personal issues?
GENTLE READER: No doubt your would-be hosts make the argument that you have to think of yourselves. Miss Manners can understand how grating it must be for people to urge you to be selfish instead of respecting you for admirably doing the right thing.
So please forgive her for making a minor point that might seem similar.
Of course you must decline making commitments to do volunteer work now. When you say that you do not have the time available, you are under no obligation to explain why.
But there should be a way to work in some social activity on your terms. If your parents are lucky enough to have friends in their lives, you will understand how important that is. As annoying as the friends you mention seem to be, surely there are some you want to keep.
So while you may not be able to accept invitations, you could issue some, if only to meet for coffee, just to keep in touch. Your parents and in-laws might enjoy meeting them, if it is feasible to introduce them.