Parenting the parent
Some days I’m in the mood for a good pity party. It’s usually times when the housework is overwhelming, the kids are fighting, the weather is downright lousy and all I really want is to head over to my mom’s for a good dinner.
I want the burden of that one extra chore lifted from my shoulders by her caring spirit, the comfort of commiserating with her and the reminder, just by being around her, that in many ways, I’m still a child in an adult’s body, a 41-year-old who needs looking after.
There’s no question, there are times in your adult life when you just want to be a kid again. You want to feel a comforting hand on your head, a warm, enveloping hug and soothing words from your mom or dad, reminding you how well you’re coping with your responsibilities and how proud they are of the adult you’ve grown into. It’s words and actions like these that sooth the hard edges of raising a family, balancing a budget and trying to be a dutiful, doting child, sibling, parent and friend to those in your life. Which is sometimes a hard act for any of us to keep up consistently, no?
To those readers who still have the luxury of able-bodied parents who love and cherish them, count your blessings. The rest of us know only too well how quickly that luxury can be wrenched from you, how sudden is the transformation from an adult who is still parented to an adult who has to become a parent to their own aging parents.
It’s a transition from being cared for to being the one doing the caregiving, and it’s a one-way street with no possibility of a U-turn. Once that transition has occurred, worry becomes a constant feature of your life. That warm, mellow feeling of being loved and cared for by your parents is replaced by a hovering anxiety that flips around in your belly like a wet fish. You worry about whether your parents are making sound decisions, whether they’re eating three healthy meals a day and whether they are still sufficiently capable of taking care of themselves.
Often the answers aren’t easy to fathom, while heartfelt, honest discussions with a parent who refuses to recognize the extent to which they’ve aged are even harder.
Over the past decade, I’ve watched that transition happen in my life. It turned me from a guest at my parent’s table to the hostess issuing the dinner invitations, making the chicken soup and keeping the mealtime conversations flowing. I know I’m lucky to have a parent at my table, privileged to have the time, energy, good health and money to make a nice meal.
But every now and then, my inner brat starts whining about how it’s not fair.
“Why can’t I still be the kid?” the brat laments. “How come I have to do everything?”
It’s a journey, this road to parenting your parents, and it gets harder before it gets easier – with complex, heart-wrenching decisions we have to make for our own parents at some indeterminate point in the future.
Ideally, along the way, we become fully formed grown-ups who face up to all the responsibilities of life with stoicism, strength and courage. That means permanently banishing the childish brat who lives within us, eliminating the pity parties and accepting that life is just not fair.