My parents were Sicilian and followed many of the cultural ways and thoughts from the old country. Sicilians have dozens of expressions for every occasion. Some are like words of wisdom based on experience, others are founded in superstition. One expression that my parents used a lot was “two parents can take care of 100 children, but 100 children can’t take care of two parents.” Of all the proverbs and idioms I have heard growing up, this one impressed me the most. I couldn’t appreciate it when I was a kid, but now that I’m older it takes on a new meaning. Who knew about what it really meant to make real sacrifices before having children?
Two parents will make all the sacrifices it takes to raise a hundred children. If it means going to bed hungry so their children are all fed, that’s what they will do. If it means wearing and mending a winter coat for ten years in order to make sure their children are dressed warm enough for winter, they do it. If it means sitting up all night with a sick child and getting up for work in the morning, it’s what they do. If it means listening to their pain and drying their tears while keeping their own problems to themselves, they are there without fail. It means going to work every day, even when they are sick, in order to provide a roof over their heads. So many quiet, unmentioned sacrifices are made that children never realize until they become parents themselves.
But when parents get older and need help, the roles reverse. The children need to take care of the parents. Too often I have heard stories of the “burden” of caring for elderly or sick parents falling on the shoulders of one child, no matter how many there are in the family. The care giving is rarely evenly divided. When it becomes too much for the one child to handle, the others will fight before stepping up to the plate. There will be dozens of excuses why they can’t make any sacrifices and come to the aid of their parents. When no one can agree on who will take care of their mom and dad, the nursing home solution comes up. It’s a sad thought when children don’t have the time or energy to care for or even visit their elderly parents. It even happens in the best of families.
I guess it’s not a new thing either, if this expression has been around for a very long time. It makes you think.