The “Unwritten Contract”: Navigating Assisted Living for Immigrant Parents

The “Unwritten Contract”: Navigating Assisted Living for Immigrant Parents

My Story

As first-generation immigrants from the Caribbean, my parents sacrificed all they could to immigrate to the US. To them, the United States offered me opportunities I wouldn’t have had back home: I could pursue an education, get a competitive job, and achieve the “American dream.” I could have it better than they did. 

I did all that they wanted me to do, including going to graduate school, having a successful career, settling down and having a family, and then shifting gears and starting a business—none of which would have been possible without my parents’ sacrifices. I achieved the American dream that my parents had in mind. But then I ran into a problem: my father became less and less able to take care of himself. 

In my culture, children are expected to take care of their parents as they age. As a career woman, however, I already had a full plate of responsibilities. I wanted to care for my father, but there were not enough hours in the day for me to do so. 

When I suggested to my family members that I look for an assisted living community for my father, they responded, “that won’t work, we don’t do that.” They would rather have me quit my job so I could commit to caring for my father, as is normal in my parents’ culture. But not only was I in the middle of my career, I also had to continue working to earn income and sustain myself. I began to feel guilty—I was choosing my own livelihood over giving back to my parents who had given up so much for me. My individualistic American values were clashing with the family-centric values of my parents.

The “Unwritten Contract”

My story is not unique—many 1st-generation immigrant children experience this clash with their parents. When the children bring up the topic of assisted living to their immigrant parents, they discover that they have signed what I call the “unwritten contract.” Immigrant parents sacrifice all they can to move to the US so their children can have a better life and achieve the “American dream. They expect their children to take care of them in their old age in return. 

The conundrum, however, is that it is impossible to stick to the terms of the contract. Children cannot pursue the American dream and provide their parents with the level of care they need. This dilemma leaves children with two options: they can give up their successful career, put their college education to waste, and take care of their parents full-time; or they can attempt to convince their parents to move to an assisted living community.

The Clash of the Cultures

To Americans whose families have been here for generations, assisted living sounds like the obvious choice: the parents get taken care of, and the children get to pursue their own lives. It’s a win-win situation.

But this is not the way that many immigrant families view it. Cultures all over the world put heavy emphasis on children caring for their parents, and parents carry these values to the US with them. To them, the idea of moving to an assisted living facility means their children are “putting them away in a home” and forgetting about them. 

Children, on the other hand, adopt more individualist American values—they grow to want to pursue their own dreams rather than staying home and looking after their parents. This is where the guilt arises: children feel unable to give back to their parents who have given up so much for them. They feel selfish for prioritizing their career over their family’s well-being. They may be successful career people, but they feel like they failed as children. I think I speak for a lot of 1st-generation immigrants when I say reconciling your two cultures is one of the hardest things they’ll have to do.

Finding the Solution

Children of immigrants often feel stuck when their parents become unable to care for themselves. But there are senior care options for your parents that can provide your parents with what they need as you continue to pursue your own dreams. There are even ways to reconcile your conflicting cultural values and lessen your feelings of guilt. Here are some things to keep in mind if you’re thinking of looking for an assisted living community for your parents:

  1. Finding care for your parents is an act of love

You love your parents, but the reality is that you cannot provide them with the level of care that they need and deserve. On top of your full-time career, you are not a trained caretaker and might not be equipped to adequately look after your parents. Finding an assisted living community with dedicated and competent staff ensures that your parents will have 24-hour access to the care that they need. Locating the perfect community for your parents is an act of love, not an act of selfishness.

  1. Community 

If you’re a career person, you’re out of the house from dawn to dusk. That means your parents are alone for most of the day. If your parents are not capable of leaving the house themselves, they are susceptible to becoming lonely and isolated. The negative mental, emotional, and even physical toll that loneliness and isolation can take on your parents is not to be underestimated. Assisted living, however, offers abundant opportunities for seniors to make friends and socialize on a daily basis. Your parents could end up happier in a community than at home on their own.

Maybe your parents do not speak English, and you’re worried that they won’t be able to reap the social benefits of a senior living community. But New York City is the most diverse city in the nation, so don’t give up hope. There just might be a home where your parents can find a community of folks who share a common culture. 

  1. Assisted living is built for seniors

Assisted living communities are specially designed to meet the needs of seniors: they have elevators, stairlifts, walk-in bathtubs, and 24-hour emergency call buttons. Even the hallways are wheelchair- and walker-friendly. Your parents’ current home, however, likely does not have these same accommodations. Not only can their home be hazardous for their safety, but it can make them feel less independent. Assisted living has safety measures in place so that your parents can feel more comfortable and independent when it comes to getting around.
The only issue with the wide range of options is that you can get overwhelmed with choice. One of the reasons I became an Oasis Senior Advisor myself is because I wanted to help others navigate the path to finding their loved one’s fit. If you want to learn more about finding assisted living for your parents, contact me, Teres Rodney at Whether you’re ready to start the search or just have questions about the process, I’m here to walk you through every step.