As I’ve said in previous writings, and I mean it wholly, I love my Dad. I am grateful for all of the sacrifices he’s made for me and for loving and supporting me in the way he knows how. With that said, aging, or more specifically sick, parents are hard. It’s not because they are necessarily mean or stubborn folks; but, it’s because there is no manual for teaching children (no matter the age) on how to care for their parents. I like to call it “parenting parents.” There’s no one to tell or train you on how to get your parent to understand that you now know more about the changing world than them, and that they should listen to you — their child. There’s no book to show you how to wash your parent or how to help them do simple tasks they can no longer physically perform on their own. There’s no coach to teach you how to be firm with your parents when they need to eat but can’t keep their appetite due to illness. There’s no video to show you how to comfort your parent or deal with their emotional trauma when they hear that they have to have a body part amputated. There’s nothing to prepare your for seeing your parents, people you looked to as having a layer of imperviousness and immortality, be rendered as human beings with flaws and fears, like you, and with a mortality that grows more fragile with every revolution around the Sun.
However, when reflecting on my Dad’s illness and the physical and emotional trauma it has had on everybody in my family, I can’t help but think of the things that my parents did for me and how parenting and guiding souls, regardless of the age, towards the right path is very very hard! That reflection makes me more appreciative of the work that my parents did as well as make me more cognizant of the tremendous responsibility there is to pay that work back in return. I’m also reminded of how few resources there are for best practices and support for caretakers, particularly those who are young caring for aging parents. This is important because there needs to be open discussion and support for young caretakers on areas like empathy, communication, guilt, and burden sharing. When parenting parents, there’s not just a shift in roles; but, there is a complete paradigm shift for parents and caretakers (children). This shift irrevocability alters their relational, leadership, financial, and physical relationships. There’s an exchange of power and roles which requires acceptance, patience, consent, and cooperation on both sides in order to be successful. These are things that I’ve learned the hard way which will set the tone moving forward.
Currently, I am a work in progress as my Dad and I are getting more comfortable with a new normal — a new relationship. It is my hope that those caretaking for sick parents understand that they are not alone and that their stress as well as physical and emotional burdens doesn’t have to be theirs alone.
Most of all, parenting parents, as I’ve come to learn is that it’s not about power, control, or any of that sort; but, instead it is about love — a love so unconditional that each person is willing to make the hard choices and switch roles for the betterment of the sick parent and of the family. For love is the greatest commandment and it promises the greatest of rewards with the greatest of sacrifices.