Last week I went to a healthy happy hour with a couple of my closest friends. We began visiting about life, relationships and our work. One of the women was talking about her elderly mom who lives on the east coast. This dilemma of having an elderly parent far away and worrying about them is a common issue right now amongst many. My friend’s mom is there all alone, and my friend and her family and support people are here. Of course mom doesn’t want to move, but is too elderly to live alone. My friend offered several options for her mom. She could find an elderly gated community that offered medical necessity care and social activities, move to an assisted living home, have someone come into her home to help with caring for her, or move in with her daughter down here.
I have never met my friend’s mom, but I believe I would like her. For an eighty-eight year old woman she is sharp as a tack. She very rationally told my friend why she did not want any of the options offered. They were well thought out answers and made a lot of sense. When I am eighty-eight, I hope I can reason as well. Her reason for not wanting to come and live with her daughter was my personal favorite. She told my friend, “I love your husband too much, and if I move in, you will never have sex with him again.” My friend turned red; the thought of her eighty eight year old mother saying such a thing embarrassed her. My friend also admitted that part of the embarrassment had been that her mother is able to look through her, and knew the truth about her. My friend would not have sex again if mom moved in. In fact, my friend isn’t alone. Most women cannot have sex if parents are in the vicinity. This goes back to the fact that women don’t have sex when they are stressed. By contrast, men need sex when they are stressed, because sex helps relieve their stress.
When parents move back in with their kids as they become older, it places stress on the child and spouse. This happens even if the child wants to care for mom and/or dad. There are all kinds of reasons why this happens. Mom and dad are more fragile in old age, and the child is forced to worry about them, but there is still the conflict that mom and dad are still the authority. It’s difficult to take that away, to take over managing their life. Many of my baby boomer couples haven’t had sex in months due to the stress of having to take away a parent’s car keys due to their limited eyesight and immobility. When a daughter’s elderly parents are underfoot in their home, they no longer are their husband’s lover, they are a care taker. The thought of making noise while having an orgasm where mom or dad may hear is something most female boomers will blush about, even if the TV is so loud your neighbors can hear it. Women need an atmosphere conducive for enjoying sex, and home isn’t it anymore once the parents move in.
My upbringing taught me it is an honor to have one’s parents live with you when they grow older and feebler. I am a relationship therapist and an advocate for marriage, so I also believe the couple’s marriage must take priority. If you have the privilege to care for your older parents and you don’t want to harm your marriage (sex is the glue of a healthy marriage), there are things you can do that will help. Here are a few that I advise, but your parent’s health care facility social worker may be able to offer many more.
- If at all possible, give mom and dad as much independence as possible. An apartment in the backyard or a small room away from the rest of the family will help maintain your privacy as well as theirs.
- Scheduling sex means sex will happen, and so schedule it during your parent’s favorite program, radio show, or nap.
- Contact senior services in your area. Many times they will have a shuttle bus that comes around and picks up seniors and takes them to activities especially relevant to their social needs.
- Talk to your spouse about getting away more often. There are many people who sit with elderly clients so caretakers can get out of the house. There has never been a more necessary time to get away with your spouse. Caring for elderly parents can be exhausting and emotionally painful.
- Keep it simple. As people grow older, their world becomes narrower. This is not a bad thing. The older we get, the more we pay attention to the birds, squirrels, and nature. Telling mom and dad that you and your spouse are going to spend the evening alone in the bedroom is wise. They will get the hint, and you have communicated like the adult they always hoped you’d grow up to become.
I frequently get requests for marital therapy where the woman will say, “My husband has become an animal.” I inquire asking her, “Has anything changed in the marriage?” Frequently she will say, “Not really, my parents moved in, but they are in an apartment in the back of the house, so it really doesn’t affect us.” I will then ask, “Are you as active sexually as you use to be?” Her response may bring a faint smile to your face, she says, “No, I’m stressed out, my mom is here all the time.” Take care of your marriage, and prioritize your time together. Part of your mom and dad’s happiness stems from them knowing they raised a child who is happily married.
*Single people caring for a parent may find the load of caring for their elderly parent overwhelming. Remember, you need to take time for yourself more frequently than if you were married, because there is no one to share the load.
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