We often hear these phrases; “Why do they behave like kids? They are so stubborn like children!” As our parents grow older, we play the dual roles of being parents to our children and caregivers to our parents. Is caring for our parents the same as caring for our children?
Having experienced both roles, I can say categorically that it is completely different caring for our parents. Children require us to walk the talk. We as parents need to guide them through tough choices, be supportive through tough situations and help them navigate through life. Until they grow up and become independent, we support them through the phases of childhood, teenage years and adulthood. We can see them bloom and grow into strong, independent adults.
Our parents have been there and done that with us. In their twilight years, they face a different future. They see themselves becoming weaker. It takes longer to walk the stairs. They require more visits to the doctors, more medicines, and different diets. They find it so difficult to ask for help. A walking stick is a symbol of their growing old and is often resented.
The biggest difference in caring for our parents as compared to caring for our children is our attitude. We are used to looking at our parents for help, guidance and support. They were so strong, could carry us on their shoulders and were there in our universe forever. And now, to see them grey, weak and ill often moves us to anger and frustration. We are not ready for them to become old. But it creeps up on them and on us. And one day, we find ourselves changing diapers, giving them medicines, taking them to the doctors, making special food. We feel panicked when dementia, Alzheimer’s, or just old age diminishes their physical and mental capabilities until they don’t resemble the parents we know.
It is acceptance that changes the way we care for our parents – acceptance of their old age, their infirmities, their helplessness, and their need for independence. Once we accept, we can move past our feelings. The anger and frustration dies away replaced by empathy and love. It becomes easier to give your Dad a bath without being embarrassed.
Parents in their twilight years face the prospect of illness, loss of independence and death. We need to create an environment where they feel safe, well cared for and inclusive. We need to treat them with dignity, help them face their illnesses and fears.