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When the Parent-Child Roles Reverse

     Cook. Chauffeur. All-around fix-it person. Financial officer. Problem solver. Protector. The list goes on and on. Any parent owns a lot of different hats when he or she is raising children and running a household. Some are worn proudly; others grudgingly. No matter how they're worn, everyone in the family knows they belong to each parent. There are his. There are hers. Until . . . .

     Until everything begins to change as your parent ages and you must start to assume more and more of those responsibilities for Dad or Mom. As you must start to fill the roles that were always his or always hers.

     It's not easy to watch these changes happen in your parent. When Dad can no longer drive the car or handle paying the bills. When Mom isn't able to cook or take care of the house.

     It's not easy to be a part of those changes. Not for your parent or for you.

     It's understandable that an aging parent may have a difficult time giving up those favorite tasks. Maybe Dad is known for his beautiful garden. Mom for her wonderful family dinners. Now someone else will be clipping the hedge or making the pot roast and your parent knows that person can't do the job as well as he or she did. It may seem that other person isn't just doing it differently, that person is doing it wrong!

     Your parent may argue, "Just who says I can't do that anymore? You? Why, I was doing that when you were in diapers. Doing it before you were born."

     It's no wonder your help is sometimes met with resistance and anger, is seen as interference rather than assistance.

     On the other hand, maybe you don't want to assume so many of those responsibilities but see you must. Maybe you can't have everything just the way Mom did for dinners with the extended family. Maybe you don't know how to fix Dad's car and so—heaven forbid! —you have to hire someone else to do it. ("A stranger? You're throwing away good money on a stranger to change the oil?")

     These are some suggestions:

     ● If you find yourself and your parent reversing roles, keep in mind that you need to be gentle about the changes that have to be made. Go slowly. Don't suddenly charge in and take control. Start with small things.

     ● If at all possible, let your parent still play a part. For example, maybe Mom can't host Thanksgiving dinner but can still make her famous gravy for it. Maybe Dad can’t go crawling around under the car but can accompany you when you "both take it in" to a 30-minute oil-change shop.

     ● Keep in mind there's another important role that reverses as your parent ages. Growing up, Mom or Dad was the one who chased away the bogeyman, the one who made everything better. Now he or she is scared. Aging—preparing to die—isn't easy.

     Now it's up to you to comfort Mom. To reassure her. Not to make everything all right—you both know that can't be done—but to try to make it better than it is right now.

     Watching Dad grow old and lose abilities isn't easy either. It's frightening. But now you're supposed to be the one who is strong and brave. Now you can't lean on him because he needs to lean on you.

     This is a special time in the relationship between you and your parent. It's a strange and confusing time that brings new challenges as it exposes new facets of the love you share. It's a precious time.

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