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Caregiving can be a blessing, Rhonda Kelley writes in new book

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–Caring for an aging adult parent can be a challenge, but it also can be a rich and rewarding experience, Rhonda Kelley writes in a new book, “Raising Moms: Daughters Caring for Their Mothers in the Later Years.”

“What a privilege to tenderly care for parents in the way that they cared for you in childhood,” Kelley said. “Yes, it is hard to juggle the demands of work and family while also supporting parents. But the sacrifice is worth it. In caring for aging parents, Christians are following the biblical principles of honoring parents, continuing the spiritual legacy, and training children to respect elders.”

Kelley and her husband, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary President Chuck Kelley, gained firsthand experience in the subject when they become caregivers for his parents. The experience led Rhonda to pen Raising Moms, released by the New Hope publishing division of Woman’s Missionary Union.

When her father-in-law Charles Kelley Sr. began facing age-related health problems, the family began searching for a skilled nursing center and found one that met his needs in New Orleans.

The senior Kelley was moved to a skilled nursing floor at Lambeth House while his wife, Doris, moved to an independent living apartment in the same facility.

As the Kelleys began their new role as caregivers, one of Rhonda’s friends recommended a secular book on the subject. She read the book and found it very helpful, but lacking.

“As a Christian, I would read and think, ‘There’s so much more to it than just facts.’ The book was missing the spiritual dimension,” said Kelley, professor of women’s ministry at New Orleans Seminary and managing editor for the Women’s Evangelical Library to be published by the B&H Publishing Group of LifeWay Christian Resources.

Kelley began meeting countless other women of her generation who were dealing with the same issue. Because more and more women are facing hard decisions in helping their aging parents, Kelley decided to write Raising Moms to help these women, aiming to provide a resource focused not only on the facts of caregiving but also on the biblical principles that should guide Christians.

Because so many women are caring for aging mothers, Rhonda focused her book on the unique aspects of the mother-daughter caregiving relationship. Most of all, she wanted to help women see their caregiving roles as a blessing rather than a burden.

In addition to the discussions about biblical principles and the mother-daughter relationship, Kelley also devotes special attention to communication, family dynamics and the role of the church in assisting families.

It is never too early for daughters to begin caregiving conversations with their mothers, Kelley said. She suggests starting the conversation long before any health issues arise. Her experience with the Kelleys helped open early communication about caregiving with her own mother.

“Mother and I have already talked through many of the tough things,” Kelley said about her mother, Joyce Harrington. “My role as her daughter is not to do what I want to do, but to facilitate her in being able to do what she wants to do.”

After seeing the Kelleys move to Lambeth House, Joyce Harrington, who remains in excellent health, sold her home and moved into an independent living apartment at the same facility. Harrington wanted to make the decision on her own terms. The move has also freed her to be more involved in ministry through her church, First Baptist in New Orleans.

During the extra time Kelley has spent with her mother and Mom Kelley over the past three years, she has witnessed a vibrant and growing faith in both women. Their church has played a key role by providing opportunities for seniors to minister and learn. Kelley said seeing their legacy of faith and Christian service firsthand has been a blessing.

“[My mother] is at the church anytime the doors are open,” Rhonda said. “She volunteers to serve in any capacity. And even though Mom Kelley is limited in what she can do physically, she is a faithful prayer warrior and encourager of others.”

Chuck and Rhonda Kelley share each Sunday with “The Moms” –- Doris Kelley and Joyce Harrington. Their Sunday routine starts with worship together at church. They go to lunch together and then spend the afternoon visiting at their mothers’ apartments. The day is capped off with a visit to Kelley’s father in the skilled nursing center.

In the book, Kelley also deals with the generational differences daughters must navigate as they care for their mothers. A little understanding, she writes, will go a long way in averting many of the generational struggles that arise in the caregiving relationship.

To close the book, Kelley provides a list of resources to assist caregivers, including books, websites, articles and organizations aimed at caregivers.

As Kelley neared the completion of the book, her real life as a caregiver interrupted her writing. When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, she had to see that her mother and the Kelleys made it out of New Orleans.

The whole family now is back in New Orleans. The Sunday routine continues.