There’s a short, moral story you may have heard of by Usha Bansal called The Wooden Bowl.

The story features an elder who comes to live with his son, spouse, and grandson. The son is agitated by his father’s presence and only grows more irritable the more care and attention his father needs. The breaking point is at the dinner table when the elder continues to spill peas and break glasses as he’s incapable of holding anything steady. The son sets up a table in the corner of kitchen with wooden utensils and sends his father to eat there for all his meals.

This continues for several days until the adult child comes home to find his own son carving utensils in his room. When the father asks, “Son, what are you doing?” the little boy responds with, “I’m making wooden kitchenware for you and mom when you get older.”

The son’s response – made more articulate through paraphrasing – is enough to open the father’s eyes. He returns his own father (the elder) to the dinner table and from that moment onwards, they didn’t care when a glass was broken or food spilled.

The Tragic Truth of Generational Caregiving

Although most people today wouldn’t shove their elder in a “literal” corner, the symbolism is not lost. We don’t always get along with our elders, but few deserve expulsion or to be neglected. The truth is how you take care of your elders is how your children will take care of you.

This should be all the motivation you need for taking care of your elder. True, if you look at the motivations of the characters in the story, the father can be viewed as selfish (or suffering from self-preservation), but the change in perspective is often all we need to change our ways.

Even if you don’t get along with your parents all the time, you should follow the golden rule (especially in this instance). Treat others how you want to be treated, especially down the line.

American culture isn’t as keen as others on taking care of the elderly (or living with them), but what you do and what you value is passed down to your children, unconsciously or not. Who you are is reflected in your children, even if you don’t want to see it. So be wary of what you value and hold true and understand that, even when you’re a parent, you can never stop self-improving. Learn from everyone, seniors and children alike.