The decision to spend several years abroad can be a greater burden on the parents and family members who remain behind than one might initially assume. “Don’t worry about us, we’ll manage,” may be true for the moment, but unfortunately one must always expect a deterioration in the general condition of one’s own parents. If you don’t have siblings or close relatives who can take care of the wellbeing of the family elders back home, you may have to resort to social institutions in some situations.
Not only expats are affected by the question of what to do when their own parents can no longer cope with their daily lives. For most senior citizens, a move to a retirement home or an assisted living facility is only an option in an extreme emergency. They prefer the alternative of being allowed to live in the comfort of their own home, and perhaps accept support there from time to time. However, if the parents – or even a parent living alone – are largely on their own, it makes a big difference whether you live five or 5,000 kilometres away. Sure, if an emergency arose, you would fly straight home. But the current events show us just how much of a delicate situation this is, as possibilities can change from one day to another. And besides this, there is always the possibility that an acute case develops into permanent need for care. Instead of having to deal with a guilty conscience or worrying about the future, some precautions should be taken.
As Much Autonomy As Possible…
Before departure, prospective expats should seek an open discussion with their parents and family members to list possible difficulties and the possible alternatives for dealing with them. Such a conversation is not always easy and requires a lot of tact. But it is a chance for all those involved to prepare for the changed situation in such a way that neither side feels left out. The following points require clarification between expats and their parents:
- Describe your concerns about your absence, but also listen especially carefully in this conversation so that you hear your parents’ concerns as well.
- Ask what your relatives think about your plans to go abroad.
- Consider together what specific difficulties might arise and ask your parents how you should then act. Do not only think about the immediate present, but also plan a few years into the future.
- If possible, also talk about financial security. What is the situation? What does the insurance cover look like? Where can you find all important documents in case of an emergency?
- Questions about health issues should not be taboo either. Make sure that you at least know the names and addresses of doctors who can help in the possible case of emergency.
- If possible, include siblings, other relatives or friends in your considerations. What tasks could they take on? What are the names of your parents’ neighbours? Could you possibly ask them for small favours?
- Agree on how you will stay in contact with each other. Regular phone calls at agreed times are one possibility. Or perhaps you could install a PC with e-mail access for your parents?
- Decide who is available quickly in an emergency, who will inform you and how quickly you can be there.
…As Much Help As You Need
If support via external service providers is necessary, the following facilities offer interesting offers that can be considered depending on the place of residence. The spectrum ranges from visitor services and domestic support to outpatient care, and day-, night- and short-term care places. It makes sense to inform yourself and collect addresses. Maybe you find some services that can perhaps already be used immediately to “compensate” your own absence a little.
Entertainment Must Also Be Provided
In addition to physical, mental well-being of the parents must of course also be taken care of.
- Send letters/e-mails and photos in addition to the regular phone calls. Especially the reports about the progress of the grandchildren should not be too short.
- Find out about the leisure activities for senior citizens at the place of residence. Special courses are usually offered by adult education centres. However, many cities also have senior citizens’ educational institutions, private senior citizens’ initiatives, or take advantage of the offers of the churches.
- Contact with other people is especially important if you cannot visit them regularly yourself. You should not neglect this aspect, even though you may have to make these ideas appealing to your parents first.
The decision to go abroad and leave vulnerable parents behind is a difficult one. No question about it. But not going would be an alternative that your parents would probably not approve of either. You should therefore try to actively and creatively look for ways to improve your parents’ everyday life and be prepared for any situations that might arise. Then you can at least leave with the reassuring feeling that you have made provisions for the emergency.
Katrin Koll Prakoonwit
- Seek an open discussion to list possible difficulties and the possible alternatives for dealing with them.
- Prepare for the changed situation in such a way that neither side feels left out.
- Do not only think about the immediate present, but also plan a few years into the future.
- Talk about financial security as well as health concerns.
- Agree on how you will stay in contact with each other.
- In addition to physical, mental well-being of the parents must of course also be taken care of.