It's one of the Bible's most familiar commandments: "Honor thy father and thy mother."
But this simple statement has become a millstone around the necks of millions of Americans who struggle to care for elderly parents.Few religious groups are doing their part to help, according to a California writer and activist who works in the field of "caregiving," the name experts have given to an adult child's work caring for elderly parents.
As a result, many people feel spiritually, emotionally, physically and financially stranded on either side of a gap between loving intentions and daily realities.
"You just can't fix old age. . . . Old age is not something that's broke," said Barbara Deane, author of "Caring for Your Aging Parents: When Love Is Not Enough."
"People may want to be able to make everything alright for Mom and Dad. But no matter how you try, you just can't do it . . . People are out there suffering, trying to do what's impossible."
Increased concerns about the aging of America are seeping onto the shelves of secular and religious bookstores, with new self-help volumes hitting the market each year. This trend is being pushed by a wave of statistics.
Most of the nation's religious institutions were built by members of generations at or past retirement age. Another way to trace the "caregiving" trend is to study the famous "baby boom" generation born after World War II.
It is estimated that 77 million baby boomers will soon move into the "caregiving" years. Their challenges will be great because the size of the typical American family has declined and medical advances are increasing the life-spans of the elderly.
The bottom line: Fewer children will care for more elderly parents.
Numbers emerging from government and academic sources are black-and-white images of emotions - love, guilt, concern and despair - that haunt millions. Six million elderly Americans already need help with basic daily tasks, such as getting out of bed and going to the bathroom.
In one national survey, half of the federal workers interviewed said they were responsible for care of dependent parents. Another painful reality is that about 75 percent of all "caregiving" work is done by women and half have other jobs.
A U.S. House of Representatives report indicates the average American woman spends 17 years raising a child and 18 years caring for elderly parents.
"We have to start helping people in the pews know what their options are, where they can turn for help. It's not enough to dash around, trying to put out fires," Deane said.