Its a role reversal that faces most of us eventually: At some point, we find ourselves parenting our parents. The trick is in accomplishing it successfully and with grace.
What are the obstacles? Chiefly, your parents may balk at your taking over control of their lives. And make no mistake: In part it is a control issue. They also may still feel that they are the parents, you are the child, and that you need to take direction from them, not vice-versa. But mixed with that is reluctance to relinquish control of their lives or to recognize the aging process that necessitates it.
So how do you go about parenting your parents with a minimum of fuss and friction?
Take it slowly
You will want to ease into the role graduallyand before the need is severe. Keep a watchful eye on your parents to see when they show small signs of needing help. It may be that your moms or dads eyesight is deteriorating, and either or both can no longer drive at nightor really drive well at all. It may be that your mom or dad, who always handled bill-paying or checkbook-balancing with aplomb, now complains that the bank is constantly messing up, or that she no longer can tolerate the ineptitude of the phone company, which keeps dunning them for bills she knows she paid. The first sign of a need for help may be that Dad admits he sometimes forgets to take his daily meds, or that Mom admits that cooking a full meal every night is sometimes too much for her, and that sometimes she just opens a can of soup.
If you dont live close to your folks, you may have few options short of moving to be near them, moving them to be near you, or contracting with an agency that will provide some help for them.But if you live nearby, you can start doing little things for Mom and Dad. Dont present it as taking over. Rather, simply offer to make their lives easier. Start small. Start slowly. Let them get acclimated to the idea of your doing little things for them. Offer to help with the checkbook or the bill paying, but dont say Let me take that over for you. Instead, say, Let me help you with that. Often a small difference in phraseology can make the difference between your help being accepted or rejected. Call Dad every day to see how he isand, while you have him on the phone, ask if hes taken his morning meds yet. Offer to take Mom around on some of her errands. Dont say, Ill drive you. Say, Lets get our hair done together. Itll give us time to chat.Remember, they value their sense of independence as well as wanting to keep the balance tipped in favor of their maintaining their sense of independence. So word your offers of help accordingly..You probably wont need to jump whole-hog into a caretaking role at first. Most commonly, age takes its toll slowly, and your parents will have plenty of time to get used to your doing little things for them before you need to move on to taking over more of their day-to-day tasks and taking over more of the decision-making as well.
On the other handIt may be, however, that a suddenly occurring radical health situation precludes the ability to ease into this role gradually. This can happen if your parent has a stroke, for example, or an incapacitating fall, or if there is sudden-onset dementia, as recently happened to a friend of mine. Particularly if your parent is alonewidowed or divorcedand has no one right there to help her or him. In that case it may be necessary to move her in with you for the duration..If she makes a full recovery, she may be able to return to her own home, but she will now be more acclimated to your doing things for her and is likely to be less resistant to your turning the tables. Parenting your parents isnt easy on you, but its important that you keep in mind that psychologically its at least as tough, if not more so, on your parents. So when the time comes, care for them with respect as well as love.About the Author: Cynthia MacGregor is the proprietor of a website for single parents and the producer and host of Solo Parenting, a TV show for single parents airing in the West Palm Beach viewing area. Busy and happy, she says, "There is no one in the world I'd want to trade lives with."Have you had experiences taking care of your parents? Comment below.