Parenting Our Parents

When did it happen? At exactly what point did the tables turn? Did I see it coming? Yes, I know my mother ended up with a horrible outcome from what was supposed to be a relatively “simple” surgery, and that has resulted in her dependence on my sister and me, but I don’t think this is exclusively the reason. I know many of my friends are in the same situation. Even if their parent(s) are not disabled in any specific way, they share their concerns with me about their parent(s)’s behaviors, decisions, etc. I hear them express their disapproval of a particular decision or attitude. They express these to the parent(s) only to be rebuked. Then there is angst between them. Sadly, sometimes it doesn’t get resolved before it is too late…

As children, we looked to our parents for everything; clothing and housing, food and education, more. We depended on them to make “the rules” and lay a foundation to lead us into responsible and respectable adulthood. They made, or at least helped us make, important decisions. Most of us were fortunate enough to receive all of these gifts from our parents. So what happens when we begin to see and feel the need to take care of them and make those same kinds of decisions for them?

From an article at elderoptionsoftexas.com, Roll Reversal: Should You ‘Parent’ Your Parent?:

Because of advances in medicine, more and more people are living well into their 90’s. But quality of life isn’t always keeping up—and many older adults have mobility issues, chronic conditions, dementia, and other health problems that mean they need live-in care.

Many adult children make the decision to take care of their elderly parents—either part-time or full-time. But caring for a parent comes with some pitfalls. Often, it comes in the form of ‘roll reversal’. When your parent needs significant help to do basic things—even things involve very intimate hygiene-related tasks—it can be tempting to start seeing this as a reversal in roles. 

If you haven’t had to face this, let me tell ya, it ain’t easy. My dear sister, Joan, now lives with my mother. Granted, the loss of Mom’s leg is truly tragic and she often expresses feelings of uselessness. While she still balances her own check book, lays out her vitamins for the week every Saturday, folds laundry, and writes out checks for her bills in her same beautiful, perfect handwriting, “I’m a cripple,” she cries. “I hate my life. I just want to die.” Yet, whenever faced with some kind of challenge, like coughing to the point of choking, she clings to life in a panic. I don’t think she really wants to leave us. She just gets frustrated and depressed. Understandable for sure. She led such an active life before and still takes care of herself pretty well, with some limitations, of course. She has a caregiver most days while Joan is at work and I take over care duties full-time whenever Joan goes out of town.

For the most part, it’s routine. For instance, breakfast in the morning consists of cereal or eggs and toast, occasionally with a little bacon because she loves it, but has to avoid too much salt. BUT, if I ask her if she’d like some sliced tomato with it, I am met with gritted teeth and fists banging the table. “Noooooo,” she roars, “I just want eggs!” I want to ask, “Who are you and what have you done with my mother?” Joan gets this same type of reaction when Mom can’t find some piece of paper she feels is important and Joan doesn’t quite grasp the significance.

I found an article at agingcare.com entitled Switching Roles: Coping with Your Rebellious Aging Parent by Carolyn Rosenblatt.  She says,

“Some people call this “switching roles”. What it means is that your job, one you’ve never done before, is to be sure your parent is safe and cared for, just as your parent once did for you. The problem is, your parent is not going to grow up, become more mature and eventually appreciate your efforts. So where does that leave you?

For most adult children who must learn this new job of safety monitor, taking on the new responsibility of “parenting your parent” leaves you with a fair amount of stress and anxiety. Some adult children still feel intimidated by an imperious aging parent, even one who is infirm, demented or unable to care for themselves independently. It takes some doing to face this and cope, but it can be done.”

Rosenblatt offers five “strategies” for coping with the new role of parenting our parent(s). She also refers to several other articles the agingcare.com website offers on the subject.

Mom is still mighty sharp in most aspects, but sometimes she can get downright belligerent. That is probably our greatest challenge. We’ve decided she is bored, since she stays at home with rare exception, and could use some stimulation, input from outside her little world. It’s hard to get her out, though, because she claims getting in and out of the car is “exhausting.” No doubt. It would probably be so at 92 even if she had both legs. At this point, however, we have introduced her to the idea of a senior residence that seems absolutely fabulous. She now goes to a class there every Wednesday and admits (albeit reluctantly) that she enjoys it. Moving there is under consideration, but she’s “not ready for that yet.”

For now, like everything in life, we’re taking it one day – one minute at a time. And loving her all we can for as long as we can. Perhaps you are facing similar challenges with your parent or parents. Do you have any suggestions?                Any and all are welcome.

About Jan Schim

Jan is a singer, a songwriter, a licensed body worker specializing in CranioSacral Therapy, and a teacher. She is an advocate for the ethical treatment of ALL animals and a volunteer with several animal advocacy organizations. She is also a staunch believer in the need to promote environmental responsibility.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Parenting Our Parents

  1. Poignant, Jan. Someone said to me recently that life is all about letting go – and we fight like crazy against that process. Thank you for helping us see this reality. It really is “one day at a time”.

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