Russians Don't Do Nursing Homes - Abhor the Idea

The vast majority of Russians insist parents should be cared for by their children - at all costs. Only in rare cases would this occur, i.e. no kids...

This article from our archives was first published on RI in September 2017

In America, we have been brought up to consider nursing homes inevitable, like winters in New York. You live your life, as brightly, as vividly as you can, stretching the seams to make youth last as long as possible. But once you are old and gray and senile, you do the right thing and make way for the young. You’ve had your fun, now let them have theirs. No modern person has time to waste and naturally, everybody hates “leeches.”  So you quietly make your way to the nursing home, not ‘wanting to be a burden to anybody’

Yes, usually it’s horrible, terrifying, lonely. The sense that there is nothing waiting for you, except maybe checkers and visits. And Death. But it’s just the way things are. Everyone is accepting of the common tragedy.

On one of my first visits to Russia, I was talking to a single mother who struggled to support two kids in Moscow. She was also taking care of her senile, sick, and rather difficult father. I asked her whether she had considered giving him to a nursing home or at least hiring someone to help her take care of him for a small sum.

Should this dedushka be in a home?

She, genuinely horrified, said “How? How can I give my Dad away? For some other stranger to change his sheets?”

I remembered her every time I asked Russians about old age and retirement homes. Most of them seemed repulsed by the idea. I then started looking up forums online to see whether it was just people in my circle. Nope. Online, even private nursing homes publicly mourn Russians’ inability to understand the convenience and humanity of nursing homes.

Predominantly, Russians really believe that sending parents to a nursing home is wrong and ungrateful and downright shameful.

Of course, part of this comes from the fact that in Russia, most nursing homes present a deplorable picture. But that’s not the whole story. Surely if the society believed that this was something they were convinced was necessary, better and more nursing houses would appear to meet the demand.

The fact remains that the people in Russian nursing homes are usually either people without relatives or parents who have cut all ties with their children. Polls in Russia suggest that exponentially more people intend to keep their aging parents at home.

And while Americans tend to use rational and practical language to explain the nursing home phenomenon, Russians will often use emotional and ethical language on the question, using words such as “duty” “love” and “right thing” … rather old-fashioned explanations in our day.

Some Russian Christians argue that a loving family will naturally want to keep the parents: giving them away would be like giving a helpless child away. Worse, maybe, because parents have already invested time and love into you. They say that facing and dealing with the inconvenience and annoyance that an old person may cause teaches people patience and sacrifice. Kids learn from the start to take care of people, to suffer inconvenience for a higher good. Besides, Russians believe that illness and age actually bring people closer to God, by helping them realize their dependence, weakness, and need for Him.

But for most Russians, nursing house hatred is just instinctive, based on an internal, unspoken logic: you take care of your parents, your kids will take care of you, a generational chain of mutual service. And even if that’s not what happens, Russians have a deep sense that that’s how it should be.

For them, what it comes down to is this: do you sacrifice your own comfort for your parents or do you sacrifice your parents for the sake of your own comfort?

Should this 75-year-old Grandpa be in a home? Enjoy :)

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