Whose Responsibility is it to Care for Your Parents?

One question today, question and answer, meaning it’s a specific question we’ve gotten from a specific person, usually from our tribe online. This one looks like a conversation from Jeremy and one of his friends. I think it’s a great conversation. And it’s, “If you have multiple siblings, whose responsibility is it to care for your parents?” Or even if you don’t, I think this conversation or the question in general is how do you work with your siblings, big or small family to care for your parents when they get to that stage of the game? That’s a tough question. Right? People are probably living in different parts of the nation, different jobs, different resources. How would you just practically facilitate that question, Jeremy?

Yeah. So somebody asked me this, they were considering moving to another city in order to care for their aging parents. And my first question was, “Do you have siblings?” And they’re like, “Yes.” And I said, “Where are you at in the order?” And he said, “I’m third.” And I said, “Where’s your older two siblings?” And they said, “They both live in the same city as my parents.” And then he sort of stopped me and said, “Why are you asking me those questions? No one’s ever asked me that before.” And I said, “Well, I’m trying to figure out, like, you’re asking me a really good question, which is, am I responsible to leave my job, leave my city and go care for my aging parents in another city. And my first instinct, when you asked me that was to figure out if you’re the firstborn and if your other siblings are stepping up into those roles, particularly the older siblings.” And again, this surprised him, but we had a really good conversation around it. And I think I just made me realize, oh, I don’t think this is like native to most people’s thinking about aging parents. In classic cultures. This is very normal. One of the reasons why the oldest child would often be given a double inheritance was because it was their responsibility to care for the parents, when they were getting older.

Well, I think it’s to consume that money. It was actually to have the resources to use it.

That’s right. And I think certainly every single child has responsibility to figure out how they can support their parents in their aging. This is actually man, in the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, it shocked me to discover that there are more verses about caring for aging parents than caring for children. So we talk a lot about this topic in Five Minute Fatherhood because for a lot of you guys, this is coming and you don’t realize that you’re responsible at some level. But one of the things that’s interesting is that in a multigenerational family team, birth order is really important to consider because if we’re a team and we’re trying to coordinate our efforts across generations, then to figure out whose responsibility it is to initiate certain things and when that’s been abdicated and how to recover from that becomes really important.

If it becomes, again, if you just think, “Oh, well, all siblings are equally responsible,” that almost like saying no one’s responsible. This is what always happens, you guys in something where you basically diffuse responsibility.


But just classical culture did not that way. They knew that there’s a critical thing to be accomplished, like the caring for aging parents, that it’s very important to know who’s responsible. And so I would say, you guys, I want to speak specifically, if you’re a firstborn or an only child of aging parents, then you have a lot of responsibility and you need to think about that. Now, if you’re not, if you’re second, third, fourth, or whatever in the lineup, then it doesn’t mean you don’t have responsibility, your responsibility. And this is in a very intact, very functional multigenerational household, your responsibility would be to assist your older siblings in the caring for aging parents. To be calling them. “What can I do? Do you need money? Do you need me to move?”

That was the kind of conversation I was having with this guy. You need to be coordinating with your older brother and figure out, okay, what does he need? Is he going to burn out? Does he have the resources because … But I would definitely want to work through him or through her and not like around him or her. That’s kind of the way that I would approach this. This is kind of the way I would expect it to work in our family. This is certainly the way that we approach it with our parents. And so I don’t think that’s often thought about, but these are not hard and fast rules.

It’s not like I’m saying the Bible says, “Firstborns have this …” The Bible does not lay this out. I’m saying classical cultures. This is kind of the way that people generally think about the responsibility to care for the parents. And it has a lot of wisdom to it. And I think that if the oldest, let’s say you’re the second born and the oldest completely has abandoned that responsibility, then I think it’s important to communicate to them. “Hey, it looks like you’re not going to be investing in trying to help our parents. I’m going to go ahead and step in and help them out.” And I think that part of what you need to be realizing or doing in that case is that you are trying to support the family because there has been an abdication, as opposed to thinking, “Well, I’m equally responsible.”

No, no, no. It’s important to understand there’s that the older sibling is not stepping up, is actively really not fulfilling any responsibility in this area. And so that’s going to be more difficult or more challenging in some ways for you, but if they are willing and you are able to support them, having that kind of order in a home is so great. It creates a lot of unity clarity for the family, a lot of unity amongst the siblings. And it’s good to preserve that kind of order in the multigenerational household, if it’s possible. And in this day and age, it’s rarely that simple, but it’s good to know what the ideal is. And then to go ahead and work with what you have. And so that’s kind of the way that I think about this, but Jeff, any thoughts about how that works out?

No, yeah. I don’t think I would add anything. I totally agree. I just think what’s, and again, like you said, general cultural rule, not biblical mandate, but just like, can we learn from it? And I agree there’s the general biblical, I mean, general cultural kind of vision there that I’ve always noticed. That’s very different as we in our culture are so flat on fairness and equality between all siblings that then that kind of comes back to bite us in situations like this, because they know what that means is when you need someone to take leadership and ownership, no one does. And the opposite dynamic back then was actually, it was almost, in a way I even talked about it with Kinsley is like, it was very much a spectrum of your blessing and your responsibility are kind of tied, right? The more responsibility you have, the more you get blessed.

And that was even true of like the nation of Israel, etc. And I’m not saying that you get less blessed as a lower kid. hopefully everyone knows what I’m saying, as a younger kid. Everyone knows what I’m saying there, but I do think you tying those together is sometimes really helpful because then you’re willing to take on more responsibility because then it’s kind of affirming in some other ways, so that one’s hard to unpack on a lot more of an episode. So hopefully there’s grace there, but I love that conversation and think it’s a necessary.

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