Several years ago, I heard someone say I don’t like being the parent of my parents. I will admit, I didn’t really fully grasp what she was saying. Not with my heart. My head knew, but not my heart.
Her elderly parents had reached the age of life where they needed a lot of assistance. They could no longer do things for themselves, so she was investing a lot of time in them. Paying their bills. Doing their shopping. Scheduling their doctor visits and being their advocates. Helping them to make wise decisions. In many ways, their roles were reversed and she was no longer the daughter but now the parent of her aging parents.
I heard the sadness in her voice; the toll this role reversal was taking on her. I paused to pray for her, but beyond that I had no idea what to do. Words of encouragement seemed hollow. What help could I offer to this mere acquaintance? Certainly, there were others in her life, those closer to her, that would help her through this stage of life. I did pray for her time and time again, as she came to mind, but beyond that I did nothing.
I regret that I didn’t do more; that I didn’t find a way to connect with her and befriend her, helping in whatever way I could. I regret it because now I understand with my heart what she was saying.
We lost my mom in November of 2021. She was on Hospice care the last weeks of her life, due to congestive heart failure. She passed away peacefully in her sleep, while my dad and her brother visited quietly in the living room nearby. The hospice nurse called me to let me know and I promised to get there as quickly as I could, though living ten hours away did not make that as quick as one would hope in such times.
My 90-year-old dad was devastated. He and my mom had been married for 69 years. He was beside himself with grief when I arrived the next day, as one would expect. I’ve always been a Daddy’s Girl, and I hated seeing my daddy crushed. While he’s in outstanding physical health, he has dementia, which likely meant he would not be able to live alone for very long. However, I knew that he needed some time to grieve in the home he and my mom had shared, so against the advice of extended family members, family friends, and likely even my dad’s doctor (he simply gave me a questioning look), I decided to try to give my dad at least 2-3 months in his home. The only one who encouraged me in that decision besides my own husband was the hospice chaplain.
I cannot adequately express the burden I felt. If I failed to help my dad – if it didn’t work – would I forever regret my decision? Especially since so many people didn’t think I should do that. And remember, I lived 10 hours away, so I couldn’t be there daily to see how he was doing. Fortunately, he had a fantastic church family with two elders who saw him regularly. They gave me reliable updates. It wasn’t easy, but daddy was able to stay in his home for nearly seven months. By that time, I had visited twice (I would have gone more, but I was having a health crisis of my own that required surgery, healing, and therapy) and each time I’d seen a decline in his cognitive abilities. Then the texts and phone calls started coming more frequently and I knew it was time for my dad and I to have a tough conversation.
I don’t like being the parent of my parent!
I didn’t like telling my dad it was no longer wise/safe for him to be driving. He’d had 4 accidents in the 7 months, the last one totaling his car. I didn’t like telling him that without driving it was impossible for him to live in his home in his tiny town without stores and no public transportation. I didn’t like telling him he needed to live somewhere where he was eating regularly, taking his meds regularly, etc.
I will forever be grateful that he didn’t fight me on most of what I said. I gave him options and he thought about them overnight and then agreed to move to an assisted living facility in my town, ten hours away from his home. While I truly believe this is the best-case scenario, it hasn’t been without its challenges.
If I don’t go to wake him, he’ll sleep until 3-4:00 in the afternoon, missing both breakfast and lunch, so several days a week I go mid-day to get him up for lunch. This isn’t easy; he resists. But I persist. I don’t like being the parent of my parent.
He forgets to shower, sometimes for weeks at a time. I try every method in my arsenal to help him remember, but fail more times than not. I don’t like being the parent of my parent.
He refuses to try to make friends, choosing to remain in his apartment other than for meals, so I try to help him to interact with others in the dining hall. I don’t like being the parent of my parent.
Being my dad’s parent was taking a toll on me. Upon returning home from my visits with him I noticed there was sadness in my voice, and yes, even frustration. I didn’t like that about myself. I want to love my dad well in these later years of his life, in whatever way I can.
The Psalmist cried out to God in Psalm 71:9, And now, in my old age, don’t set me aside. Don’t abandon me when my strength is failing. God will not abandon my dad, I know that! I also don’t want to abandon him, to distance myself from him, not in my presence but in my heart. I want to be loving and kind; gentle and sweet-spirited. I want to be there for him, even when it means parenting my parent.
It will take a conscious effort on my part, encouragement from others, and God working in me to make this happen. I’m already beginning to see a subtle shift in my attitude. One thing that’s helped is my “Word of the Year” for 2023. In case you’re not familiar with the Word of the Year concept, it is one word that an individual will focus on throughout the year. I’ve been choosing a Word of the Year for a few years now; well, actually God has been giving me a word. This year’s word is Gratitude.
When I make that 2-mile drive home across town after visiting my dad, I focus on gratitude.
YAY! Daddy took a shower. Gratitude!
YAY! Daddy woke up easily today. Gratitude!
YAY! Daddy chatted with the individual sitting near him in the dining room. Gratitude!
YAY! Daddy wasn’t weepy today. Gratitude!
And on those days when the visit was less than ideal… YAY! Daddy lives close-by where I can see him often. Gratitude!
I don’t know your story. Perhaps you, too, are in the stage of parenting your parent/s or maybe you’re parenting a 2-year-old. Perhaps you’re stuck in a dead-end job, wishing for Mr. Right, in financial crisis, dealing with a strained relationship, coping with poor health, recently widowed, or longing for ______ (you fill in the blank). I don’t know your story and even if I did I might not be able to fully grasp its effect on you. But I can assure you that God knows and He cares.
Lean on Him! Definitely! But also, don’t be afraid to ask for help from others. Let someone know what she can do to help. How she can pray for you. How she can be the hands and feet of Jesus in your life.
It is my prayer that both you and I can face those things we don’t like and find Gratitude in the process.
Written by Jeanette Cloyd. Jeanette Cloyd’s days are busy working alongside her husband Brent who is the Associational Mission Strategist of Greater Wabash Baptist Association, caring for their son Brock, visiting her dad and the other residents of the Assisted Living Facility in Fairfield where they live, and doing volunteer work. At day’s end, she spends time indulging her creative side by making cards, which can be seen on her blog Cre8tive Play, Facebook, and Instagram.