Johnathan Webb is happy to hear this from his young wife. As a Christian, he finds guidance from 1 Timothy 5:1-2. The Bible passage speaks about treating everyone as family: older men and women as parents, those younger as siblings, and to do this with "absolute purity."
The Webbs may be years away from honoring this promise, but they are a part of a bigger, national picture. Many young people find themselves in the position of caregiver, or future caregiver. And as the average age of life expectancy increases, caregivers are faced with new problems. As the body ages, it begins to deteriorate.
Therefore, illnesses like dementia, communicative diseases that spread because of weak immune systems, and ailments such as broken hips plague the elderly.
Even with greater risks to health as one ages, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found in 2004 that 79 percent of the population who need long-term health care live at home or in a community setting rather than in institutions.
For the Webbs this means they might have to hire an in-home nurse someday, but it will not change their minds. Maria Webb will not put her parents into an institution. Neither did her parents put their parents in one. She has learned from example how and why she should take care of her parents when they age.
Maria's parents, Martin and Maria Elena Magaña, moved to Tennessee 24 years ago from Leon, a large city in central Mexico. Both of their parents still live on their own in the houses where they grew up. Maria Elena Magaña has sent money back to her parents, who Maria Webb calls "Mama Nena" and "Papa Chuy" (pictured below, with Maria Elena Magaña). They have used the money to make home improvements such as indoor plumbing, additional building, and a layer of exterior concrete to keep scorpions out. Also, Martin Magaña's widowed mother, "Abuelita Pina," is unable to care for herself as she once did.
Every two years, the Magañas and their children travel to Leon. They are not tourists. They are there to work.
"We came in and painted the porch, the kitchen, the living room and bedrooms," said Maria Webb. "We cleaned the house, cleaned out the closets. We washed all of [Abuelita
Pina's] clothes for the past two years. My grandmother's old, so it hadn't been done in a long time."
Maria knows the value of hard work. She graduated from East Tennessee State University in 2010 with a bachelor's degree in criminal justice. For now, she waits tables at the Peerless Restaurant in the heart of Johnson City. Being married and having a goal of caring for family someday is a constant reminder of how responsible she must be with her finances. Her husband attends a Bible college. They have strong faith in their marriage and their goals as a family.
Maria has seen firsthand how much effort it takes to care for an aging family member. Traveling to Mexico to care for her grandparents, family she barely knows because of the distance, has given her a look into her future.
In Mexico, Maria Elena Magaña graduated with a bachelor's degree and worked at a Coca-Cola plant. After moving to Tennessee, she received a second degree and became a bilingual secretary. Maria Webb's father quit school after second grade. He worked a variety of jobs to help support his family. In the U.S., Magaña became a certified electrician and has worked in the field for over 20 years. Maria's parents have said they will not move in after they retire. They plan to travel, do missions and take longer trips to Mexico to care for their parents.
Immigration creates a family issue of its own when family members are aging. Maria’s parents had to decide whether to return to their homeland, Mexico, or stay in the United States.
On one side, Maria’s parents have family in their hometown of Leon. They have both attained U.S. citizenship and pay into the Social Security system. They expect to see those benefits after retire
ment. Moving back to Mexico would make it harder to receive those benefits from the U.S. government. Also, Martin and Maria Elena’s children will continue to live in the United States.
“My dad won’t move back to Mexico after he retires,” said Maria Webb. “His family is here, but I’m sure after he retires, when he goes back to Mexico to visit his mother, he’ll make his stays longer.”
Johnathan Webb's parents will also be living with the couple as they age. He has a brother and two step-siblings, but finds himself in the caregiver position. In 2004, the CDC found that 59 pe
rcent of the U.S. population expects to be a caregiver.
"We're going to buy a big house," said Webb. "Johnathan and I are going to live on the top floor and they'll live on the bottom."
Governments and medicine may find new and improved ways to deal with aging citizens, but luckily, tradition has taken care of one aspect of aging. Many elderly continue to live within the home and preserve a normal livelihood that institutions cannot provide. The Webbs plan to carry on that tradition.
"What more could I do?" said Maria. "My parents have spent my whole life taking care of me. To take care of them for the last few years of their life is my duty."