The Parent-Child Role Reversal

During the last year, nothing has been more difficult in my life than the new roles I’ve been forced to play with my mother—loving caregiver, nagging parent, and life coach.

I often turn to advice from my trusted source: A Place for Mom. A recent article about Linda W caring for her 92-year old mother struck a note with me.

The article points out how eating is a perfect example. “If our child isn’t eating we simply insist that they eat for nutrition alone. But our parent’s refusal to eat can be a complex conversation.” Are they losing weight due to cancer, depression, dementia, or a host of other serious conditions? Or is it “a sign of their determination to let go”?

Seattle geriatric internist Dr. Elizabeth Kiyasu says, “…watching our parents lose their independence is one of the most challenging realities we face as our parents age. We’ve witnessed our parents’ decision-making our whole lives, important decisions about us, their children, and themselves. Then their decision-making becomes impaired and we end up making those decisions for them. Even if we rarely doubt ourselves when making decisions for our own children, making decisions while caring for elderly parents remains inherently ambiguous.”

As kids, our parents cooled our fevers, cleaned our bloody scrapes, and insisted that we eat our broccoli. Now we find ourselves hovering over our elderly parents looking for signs of failing health and turning Ensure into the new broccoli. We are trying our best to be kind, thoughtful, and patient, but it’s scary and tiring.

With access to so much information about caring for aging parents available online, we have little excuse not to understand what is happening and how to handle it. But the struggle to have the hard conversations, the energy required for endless doctor’s office trips, watching over diets and looking for signs of dementia or weight loss — it’s exhausting!

So we put on our happy face, conjure the positive forces of the universe, and continue to confront our challenges. At the end of the article that inspired this blog, Linda W admits: “I now know my mother is going to have good and bad days. I also know my mother doesn’t want to be mothered. Who would? And I believe my aunt when she tells me what a good job I am doing.”

“It’s been very hard to make all of the decisions for another adult,” Linda concludes with a sigh, “But I am getting it done. And getting it done is the right thing to do.”