Parenting a Reluctant Parent.

My friend and I went out to dinner the other night to catch up on each other’s lives.  She has recently joined me in the rank of caregiver and has had to endure a very steep learning curve.  She moved her mother, who was still independent and in reasonable health, in with her a few months ago.  A month after that, everything hit the fan and she began a journey down the road of hospitals, doctors, and difficult decisions.  Her mother is now home with her but has not fully recovered yet, and they have entered a place I know all too well – the place where you are now your parent’s parent, and neither of you are very happy about it.

Interestingly, I am also in the middle of writing a chapter about it for my new book, so it is very much in my mind.   Here is what I had written just before we spoke:

“One of the hardest things I faced as a young(ish) caregiver was the question of how to parent my parent.  There wasn’t really much information provided at the time about how to do any of this; no effective strategies, no suggested phrasing, no plans of action.  I had to learn as I went and deal with the questions as they came up.  How do I trump my own father, who, let’s face it, was clinging to his authority and superiority with every last fingernail?  How do you flip the energy of a relationship so that power that flowed in one direction now flows in another?  Because I can assure you – the flow-er does not want to become the flow-ee, if that makes any sense.  How do either of you swap such ingrained roles; parent becoming dependent child, child becoming authoritative adult?  How do you avoid stomping all over each other’s boundaries and hurting each other’s feelings?  How do you avoid getting triggered by your parent’s refusal to cooperate or their interesting new personal and behavioral habits?  And – possibly the most difficult – how do you help your parent navigate through their grief and rage at this process; and should you even try?”

 My father, an independent, proud and autonomous man was not anxious to give any of that up and we struggled for months about our new roles.  One of the things I found the most difficult was slipping out of my automatic deferral to his age and authority – something that was ingrained in me from childhood.  It took me a very long time before I could make decisions without second-guessing myself or asking myself whether it was something he would have done.  Listening to my friend, however, brought it all back: the struggles, the compromises, the threats, and the bargaining.  What I realized as she was talking, however, was how easy it has become.

I would never have guessed that being my parent’s parent was a role that would become second-nature.  I no longer agonize about decisions, I just make them.  I still act in his best interests, of course, but I no longer have to think about his input, as my friend does, nor do I think about how he would have acted.  It has, of course, taken ten years and a lot of work to get to this place, but I’m grateful to be in it, and it’s good to look back and see how far we’ve come.  I feel for her that she is right in the middle of it, but I do have this to say: Just wait, in ten years, you will have forgotten all about this!



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