30 July 2010

Motherhood, aging, and resentful adult children: Shirley Anderson's story

Updated Jan 1, 2013
Feb 3, 2013 - Edited and 4 additional references added

Shirley Anderson is suing her adult children for support. An ancient law based on English poor laws throughout Canada, except for Alberta, regards this as the children's duty (Payback time, MacLeans, June 24, 2010). The media has picked on an example of bad parenting, committed by Ken Anderson's mother and father when he was just 15 years old to support the argument of the four adult children being sued, that they shouldn't have to pay support (A bad mother's right to support from her children, National Post, July 27, 2010).

Ken was left behind when his parents moved from Osoyoos to West Kootenay in BC - abandoned, as they describe it. Shirley Anderson took her second-youngest son, Darryl, with her, apparently against her husband Gary's wishes (What do we owe our parents, Vancouver Sun, July 24, 2010). Shirley Anderson raised five children, developed lupus along the way (Payback time for parents, MacLeans, June 24, 2010), and never worked. At age 71, she now has nothing. Gary, her ex, gave her alimony when they divorced, though his boss, Labbatts, needed encouragment to split his pension with her. He has since died.

Shirley went into debt with her credit card. Her attempts to get support have been going on for ten years now. Darryl has been in and out of jail and is not being sued. Ken is 46, married with children, not wealthy but hard-working, and resents the additional burden supporting his mother presents. Daughter Donna Anderson "breaks down in tears when she recalls her tumultuous childhood with the 'mother we never had' " (What do we owe our parents, Vancouver Sun, July 24, 2010). She went to university and is raising two children.

Son Brian bought her a fridge once, in an attempt to build a relationship. Donna and her mother attended counselling together. But nothing worked, the children say. Keith hasn't talked to her in years. "She doesn't even know we're alive," he is quoted as saying (What do we owe our parents, Vancouver Sun, July 24, 2010), though it appears she does. He adds, "She never worked and she's never worked at her family either."

It's suprising that she managed to raise such enterprising children - none got put into foster homes, only one in trouble with the law. They have educated themselves and worked hard, formed relationships and raised families. They also seem to have little tolerance for women of that era, who often did stay home with the children while the husband worked - cooking, cleaning, driving the children to school functions, community events, and to the doctor and dentist - shopping, sewing, mending, filling out forms for school, getting them their shots at the doctor's, putting on birthday parties, and so on. And she had five children to worry about! At the time Shirley was raising her family, the one-salary family was the quite typical, the man being the breadwinner, his earnings enough for the entire family. That changed, in the 70's probably, until we reached this time where it takes two incomes for a family to feel they have enough.

There is uncertainty about this kind of law, though Surrey, BC, lawyer David Greig says that a child must have means to pay support before they are made to (Payback time for parents, MacLeans, June 24, 2010). Unfortunately, it's part of the human condition for people to always think they need more. And whether the reason the children are so critical of their mother is, in part, due to their not wanting to have to pay her, we don't know. Whether it should be the children's responsibility or the system's, is the larger question.

Shirley's lawyer, Donald McLeod, says "My interest quite frankly is to see that someone is treated right, and that's all I care about . . . I don't know very many people that would not be happy to support an aged parent. The duty to support and assist an elderly parent transcends everything else" (What do we owe our parents, Vancouver Sun, July 24, 2010). And finally he says, "What kind of mother she was, or is, shouldn't matter. To engage in any analysis of who is at fault, I think that is a useless exercise."

"Do vengeance and vindictiveness have a place in the lives of otherwise decent people?" is the question asked in another piece on this subject (Forgiveness for an errant elder, Vancouver Sun, July 29, 2010). If Shirley was as bad as the children's stories suggest and this was not simply about money, the eye-for-an-eye retribution seems to be a little extreme. It is a symptom of our times - this hatred towards the older generation, especially women or anyone who is isolated and cannot defend themselves. Read the comments with the articles, for an idea of how our society thinks about them. It makes one wonder just how civilized we are.

Added Jan 1, 2013
A recent international news piece in the National Post, about Palestinian women being denied their rightful inheritance, raises a related matter. It may apply to Shirley Anderson’s situation, or may not. It simply is not mentioned – and why would it be – if the children received an inheritance from one of their mother’s relations through plans made for it to skip a generation. Such plans would no doubt be legal, though if some coercion had occurred, of an elderly relative, to perhaps ensure that certain descendants be left off the list of beneficiaries, then could this be considered an ethical digression, if not outright illegal? (see Tradition, social pressure keeping Palestinian women from their inheritances, Dec 27, 2012).

It is easy for people on the outside to judge, especially if they don’t know all the circumstances. False accusations or distortions of events made against the mother may hold little if any truth. It is far easier for those who hold power to have their word taken as truth than a mother fighting for survival. Some of what has been said I find shocking, particularly as one who found it necessary to leave the marriage I was in, the effects of it following me for a long time afterwards. No one is a perfect parent or spouse, but the odd one may cause harm that lasts. So much is talked about of women being able to choose to be stay-at-home mothers, but that works if she has a husband who will treat her like a human being, during the marriage and if it should end for some reason, then afterwards too. As we see here, from children who surely must have taken a huge amount of their mother’s time to raise, Shirley Anderson deserves more than what she got, from her family and from the legal system.

A bad mother's right to support from her children
By Adrian MacNair
National Post, Full comment
July 27, 2010

Adult children won’t have to support mom, court rules
By Ian AustinThe Province
Jan 31, 2013http://www.theprovince.com/news/Adult+children+have+support+court+rules/7896113/story.html

Anderson v. Anderson, 2013 BCSC 129 (CanLII)
Court case result

Forgiveness for an errant elder
By Catherine A. Mori
Vancouver Sun
July 29, 2010

Payback time for parents
By Nancy Macdonald
June 24, 2010

Runaway mom who sued adult children for support after abandoning them as teenagers NOT entitled to money: judge
National Post Wire Services
Feb 1, 2013

Shirley Anderson, Mom Who Sued Kids For Support, Loses Case
The Huffington Post B.C.
Jan 31, 2013

Tradition, social pressure keeping Palestinian women from their inheritances
By Diana Atallah
National Post - The Media Line
Dec 27, 2012

What do we owe our parents?
By Denise Ryan
Vancouver Sun
July 24, 2010

Links updated Feb 3, 2013
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