Thorny problems arise when families are called on to take care of an elderly in-law. The issues are rarely insurmountable, but I'd be playing with your head if I said they're a breeze. Emotional as well as economic issues come into play as the traditional parent-child roles shift.
If you find yourself in this situation, start by taking stock of everyone's needs, wishes, and resources. You can use the following worksheet to help you plan for the future with your in-laws.
Don't Go There
According to composer Arnold Schopenhauer, the closing years of life are like the end of a masquerade party, when the masks are dropped.
Many public agencies, service groups, and religious institutions offer assistance to caregivers of the elderly. The Methodist Church in my community, for instance, has a full-daycare program for elderly people who are in reasonably good health.
The basic rule is simple: Treat elderly in-laws with dignity and respect. For that to happen, however, there has to be communication. Try the following five ideas to help you work with your in-laws to make their golden years shine.
Communicate clearly with everyone in the family as you make decisions about aging in-laws. This is not the time to play the Lone Ranger, even if you are (a) the oldest, (b) the smartest, or (c) Mom always loved you best.
Be willing to make decisions. As long as your in-laws are able, they should make their own choices about care. But the time may come when you will have to step in. It's likely that you'll have to intervene for your in-laws' safety and the safety of others. For example, an elderly in-law may think he is able to drive a car when he's as blind as Mr. Magoo and twice as stubborn. Get the menace off the road, even if you have to be the meanie. Similarly, your elderly in-law may want to live alone, but it may no longer be safe or wise.
Ask for help. No martyrs need apply, cupcake. Start with the rest of the family. If they can't give mucho money or tons of time to help in the care of your elderly in-laws, get them to give a little here and a little there. If you have a very small family, you may not have any relatives who can help you care for aging in-laws. In that case, ask friends, neighbors, co-workers, and public agencies for assistance. You don't have to be a piggy about it, but you won't be any good to anyone if you've collapsed from the strain.
Be willing to make some personal sacrifices. "No pain, no gain" doesn't only apply to washboard abs. Be prepared to sacrifice some space, time, money, and privacy. It won't be easy, but were you such a peach as a toddler? And I'll bet your spouse had his moments, too.