“Not appropriate”

I was speaking to my very old friend, JR, the other day on the occasion of her birthday.

JR told me that her mother-in-law wants to move in and live with her and her husband, X.  It’s not for good but because her mother-in-law needs to accumulate two years’ (continuous, I think) residence in Australia before she can return to the UK (as she would prefer to) and retain an Australian pension.  She’s had previous unsuccessful attempts to satisfy this condition.  (I’m sure she has lived much more than 2 years here earlier in her life as X certainly grew up here.)  JR told me that her mother-in-law has from time to time in the past moved in either with JR’s husband or, since their marriage, with JR and X.  This has never been a success from JR’s point of view.

However much you like someone or are close to them, it is always a strain having someone as a guest in your house.  It’s that feeling that you have to put yourself out a bit more because of the obligation of hospitality.  I think that was the gist of JR’s complaint about when her mother-in-law had stayed with them before.  If a home is primarily your home you can never really revert to a house-sharing sort of arrangement with a guest, even if that is the guest’s declared intention.

In addition, in recent years, JR has had health problems which have led to her stopping work.

JR said, “X  keeps telling his mother ‘No.’   I think he should simply tell her it’s not appropriate.”

I was taken aback.  JR was for many years a public servant.  Is this a public service concept?  It seems to suggest that something is categorically unthinkable.

JR and X have room in their house; X’s mother has a need of finite duration.  What’s “not appropriate”?  I could still understand “No” or “JR is too unwell to handle it” or even “It won’t work out” based on previous experiences, but I just couldn’t see the inappropriateness, whatever that means, or why that trumps “No.”

JR said: “Well, would you have your father to live with you?”

My father is 89 and recently widowed.  He lives alone in his own home but it is a live issue what would happen if he could no longer do so.

I said, “Yes.”

Indeed, D, with whom I live, has even suggested it. It is my father who would be reluctant – whether he would rather live with me or in a “home” has not yet arisen but I strongly suspect he might prefer the latter if he were still able to choose.

For that matter, D has even suggested that my maternal aunt, who is struggling living on her own in a far-away country town, come to live with us. I know that would be hard but compared to leaving her on her own I could endure it (at least, I think now I could).

I didn’t mention that to JR but I did by way of explanation add that D is Chinese.

We agreed that Chinese have a different attitude to family from our people of our own, western-European cultural background.

JR volunteered that X’s mother had numerous children other than X and all had been pushed out the door quite early to fend for themselves.

I didn’t even get round to telling JR that right now D is in Shanghai, staying in a one-bedroom flat with his mother, who no longer wishes to live alone in her own place and who therefore now lives with his second sister and her husband.  Until recently, D and his mother shared the bed in the bedroom and his sister and brother-in-law slept on the couches in the living room.  Right now D’s third sister is having her flat renovated for three months and so now she and her husband sleep in the bedroom, his mother sleeps in the living room with the second sister and brother in law, and D sleeps in the balcony.  On top of all this, the third sister’s daughter returns from university on holidays and weekends.  God knows where she sleeps.

But I digress.

It subsequently occurred to me that JR asked the wrong question. Yes, I can contemplate having my father to live with me, but it would be altogether a greater challenge if D’s mother expressed such a desire.

Fortunately for me, that is most unlikely.  She has no desire to come and live in Australia at all.

2 Responses to ““Not appropriate””

  1. Andrew Says:

    It is a conundrum and one I will never face as my immediate and unchangeable answer would be no. It would not be fair on my partner, though I suppose I could cope. As I jokingly remind my sister, it is the daughter’s role to look after ageing parents. Unfortunately she is the one best placed to do so but she would also refuse. I think in today’s Australian society, once someone can no longer adequately care for themselves, professionals must take up the role. As long as it is quality care, I think they are better off than with any of their children and the problems that will inevitably arise.

    • marcellous Says:

      A, that sound’s like an endorsement of “not appropriate.”

      Incidentally, I’ve noticed amongst my acquaintances that care of elderly parents is increasingly the gay son’s role where there is one – he is more likely to be single and even more likely to be childless.

      The question of where people are better off is I think very specific to their particular situation. I expect many older people may well feel they have more autonomy as a patient in an institution than a guest beholden to one of their progeny. The position with JR’s m-i-l is ostensibly a temporary situation so is a bit different.

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