Caregiving as the Parent-Child Roles Reverse
The fourth commandment—honor your father
and your mother—doesn’t have an age limit. But what does it mean
for an adult child taking care of an aging parent as the parent-child
roles begin to reverse?
How does it apply—how does one apply it--as
the child assumes more responsibilities taking care of Mom or Dad? Is
it possible to be dutiful son or daughter and a good caregiver?
The short answer is "Yes." The more
complete answer is "Yes, but it’s not always easy."
These are some suggestions:
—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. That’s
especially so if your parent has a strong personality, if Dad always
made and enforced the rules, if Mom ruled the roost. (Realize your
parent is going to continue to use what worked for him or her in the
past. A yeller will yell. A pouter will pout. And so on.)
—On the other hand, if your parent has
always been pretty easygoing but is becoming more and more
belligerent, there could be a physical reason. A personality change
can be a symptom of dementia.
—If at all possible,
let your parent continue to play a part in the decision-making. At a
calm time, talk about roles and agree on a plan. Your parent may be
unable to do many things the way he or she used to so and so it takes
some thought and creativity to find ways to give her control or at
least let her maintain some control.
—Remember roles reversing doesn’t mean
your parent becomes the child and you become the parent. It means you’re
in this together. And, as with all the stages of the relationship the
two of you have shared, this one needs to be based on love and
—Don’t lose sight of the fact that your
mutually agreed upon plan may disintegrate over time. Or fall apart
suddenly. Both your situations can change. Your parent may need more
help. You—because of obligations at home and at work—may not be
able to provide as much help as you have been.
—Recognize that you may be the target of
your parent’s emotions—the anger, the frustration and the fear—simply
because you’re there. Your father may say hurtful things because he
is hurting. "When did you stop loving me?" he’ll demand.
He’ll accuse. It’s awfully hard not to feel hurt.
It’s tempting to give a sharp answer.
Better to take a deep breath and gently remind him of the fact "I
do love you." State it simply. State it kindly. There’s no need
to list all that you’re doing for him. When he
feels a little better, when he calms down a bit, he’ll remember them.
He sees, he knows, what a good son or daughter you are.
Return to Topics