"I am in between. Trying to write to be understood by those who matter to me, yet also trying to push my mind with ideas beyond the everyday. It is another borderland I inhabit. Not quite here nor there. On good days I feel I am a bridge. On bad days I just feel alone."
-- Sergio Troncoso, Crossing Borders, Personal Essays
Recently, I had the unique opportunity to share a personal experience regarding sibling conflicts in caregiving on OurParents.com. This experience led to my reflecting on cultural differences and expectations regarding the care of aging parents. I grew up in an immigrant household where I assumed responsibilities for grown-up tasks from a fairly young age, including translating business documents and accompanying my parents to their medical appointments. I often felt overwhelmed by my role as a broker between the Japanese and American cultures as I had yet to master English.
As a child, I didn’t think about cultural differences; I simply wanted to fit in with my American peers who seemed to have the freedom to explore their childhood. I now realize that my experience was not unusual, and that there were many other children from immigrant families who shared similar situations. We didn’t have discussions about our circumstances and therefore, I thought I was in the minority. Like myself, other children from immigrant families may have wanted to be accepted and to be seen as "normal" American youth.
For children of immigrants, challenges become greater in adulthood when aging parents require more care. Due to language barriers and cultural needs, immigrants have fewer relevant resources to rely upon as they age. Thus, it is not uncommon for adult children to provide care for aging parents while juggling careers and raising their own families. In large families, caregiving may seem less daunting because tasks can be divided. Even so, having siblings does not guarantee that the caregiving process would be easy as circumstances vary.
|My family and relatives on a boat ride|
In American society, there seems to be a growing awareness of caregivers’ needs and conversations about supporting a diverse aging population. Things are far from being perfect, but I am hopeful that sensible options can be created to respect the needs of aging immigrant parents and their adult children in the coming years. My mother is 87 years old, and we are fortunate that she still drives, exercises daily, and enjoys various activities with her friends. Nonetheless, I know that things may change and that I would eventually assume greater responsibility to assist her (willingly, of course)! Fortunately, studying gerontology and working with aging-related organizations will be useful, as I now have more knowledge and resources to support Mom in a culturally-sensitive, caring manner.
Thanks for reading this post. Would love to hear your ideas and experiences on this subject.