Caring for a Parent at a Spouse’s Expense

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Albert has a tough dilemma that is keeping him up at night: His elderly mother’s health is deteriorating, requiring her to receive round-the-clock care. She wants to move in with Albert. Miri, Albert’s wife, loves her mother-in-law very much, but she is worried that their house is too small and is also concerned that having Albert’s mother move in will stress their marriage and negatively affect their shalom bayit. Miri suggests sending her mother-in-law to a nearby nursing home instead. Albert asked me what should he do – listen to Miri or his mother? 

 

The decision to invite an elderly parent to move in with a child or instead reside in a nursing home is a complex issue, requiring carefully considering the balance between the mitzva of kibud av va’em with shalom bayit. The obligation to honor parents extends beyond mere words; it encompasses actions and deeds. The Fifth Commandment: “Honor your father and your mother” (Shemot 20:12) includes the obligation to provide for a parent’s needs, including food, clothing, and even health care. But even while the obligation to honor one’s parents is paramount, shalom bayit is also the cornerstone of Judaism and Hashem’s holy Name is erased for the sake of shalom bayit (Sukkah 53a). So, what does Albert do if this mitzva comes at the expense of his wife Miri’s concerns?  

  

Take into Consideration 

 

There are a few matters to consider. If Albert’s mother requires professional medical care and round-the-clock supervision, it may very well be that Albert’s family does not have the ability to care for her at home. A suitable nursing home may be the more reasonable option, providing it can meet all of her medical needs and offer professional care and safety. On the other hand, being cared for by family in their home is often more comforting and provides the elderly parent with a loving home, something that cannot be easily replicated elsewhere. Sending a parent to a nursing home should therefore not be done simply out of convenience or to relieve a sense of personal responsibility, especially if this will cause emotional distress to the parent.  

 

Hacham Yitzchak Yosef, Shlit”a, writes that whenever possible, one should try to care for parents in one’s home. However, if there are space constraints or bringing a parent into the home may cause friction and marital strife, shalom bayit takes precedence (Yalkut Yosef, Dinim Laisha, 52:5, based on S.A. E.H. 74:10).  

 

Considering the general preference to care for a parent at home whenever possible, if a child is faced with the challenge that doing so may lead to conflicts with one’s spouse, it is important to recognize that there are many different options for possibly making things easier. Examples include employing a full-time caregiver in the home, enlisting the support of other family members, and modifying the home environment to accommodate the parent’s needs. Ultimately, the goal should be to balance the sacred duty of kibud av va’em by ensuring the parent’s well-being while maintaining one’s shalom bayit 

 

Rabbinic Advice 

 

Because the Shulchan Aruch (Y.D. 240:5 and Beit Yosef ibid) rules that a child need not spend their own funds to fulfill the mitzvah of kibud av va’em, if a parent does need to live in a nursing home, the costs should be borne by the parent. If the parent cannot afford to pay and the children have enough funds, the children should pay. However, if the children are unable to afford this, they can use their tzedaka funds to support their parents (ibid) 

 

In a situation where the parent has sufficient funds but is unwilling to pay, Hacham Yitzchak rules that the children should use their own funds but can later be reimbursed from the inheritance. That said, it is best to first speak with a rabbi to avoid any potential issues, as inheritance law is fraught with halachic and emotional challenges. 

 

In grappling with the decision of placing a parent in a nursing home, it is essential for families to seek guidance from knowledgeable halachic authorities. Rabbis can provide personalized guidance, taking into account the specific circumstances of the family and the parent’s condition. Each situation is unique and there may be different approaches based on factors such as the parent’s health condition, the availability of other caregivers, financial considerations, the overall well-being of the family unit, and balancing kibud av vaem and shalom bayit. 

 

 

 

Rabbi Yehuda Finchas is a worldwide expert, lecturer, and writer on medical halacha, and is the head of the Torat Habayit Medical Halacha Institute. His latest book is Brain Death in Halacha and the Tower of Babel Syndrome. To contact Rabbi Finchas, email rabbi@torathabayit.com.