When Parent Child Roles Reverse
Marilyn C. Ellis
So often I hear frustrated clients tell me, "Help, my elderly
parents are so stubborn and they are driving me crazy!" I completely
understand this frustration as I have been there too. My elderly
mother became more and more forgetful as she got older. She would
forget to eat and drink. She was too frail to drive and her life
consisted of playing solitaire, watching TV and waiting and hoping
that someone might stop by for a visit or give her a call. Trouble
was, she never had anything to talk about because she had become so
isolated from the world. She refused to move to a senior community
and expected me to be available at a moments notice - even though I
lived hours away and had a family and full time job. I was so
worried about her and frustrated too. So, I get it. I really do. I
understand what it's like to be a parent to a parent. I got through
it. I help my clients get through it and you can get through it too.
Here are some thoughts that might make you, as a parent to your
parent, feel a little better.
First of all, it is important to
understand that the Senior in your life is experiencing a lot of
loss- sometimes on a daily basis. It doesn't matter if they do or do
not believe in the necessity of moving to a safer place. It still
hurts and our patience is required. They are most likely losing more
of their independence on a daily
basis. They have already suffered
some physical and mental loss and are feeling sad, confused and
probably a little angry too. They may have lost their beloved life
partner. Seniors will often say "no" just because they can as it is
the last bastion of their independence. If they move, they are
leaving memories, familiar surroundings, neighbors and friends
behind. They don't remember how to make friends and aren't
particularly eager to make the effort to do so again.
If you are the adult child of a Senior, you are feeling a lot of
loss too! Your role has been reversed and it feels uncomfortable and
overwhelming. You remember when they were young. You hate seeing
them lose their independence. If they have to move, you will miss
the old family home too! You also wish things could stay the same.
You feel guilty that you can't keep them in their home. You feel
guilty that they can't live with you. You feel guilty that you have
to take so much time away from your own family and career. You feel
guilty that you feel angry when they make demands on you. You feel
guilty for feeling guilty!
Wow, that's a lot of anger, sadness and guilt all around!
Relax, trust and know that as the adult "parent to your parents",
that regardless of what you are feeling, you are bringing the love,
nurturing, patience and care that you received as a child, back full
circle to them. What a privilege. What a gift. Even if they don't
appreciate it, you are helping them move forward and live safer and
happier lives. Be content with knowing that. Living alone is not
fun. Living alone is boring. Living alone when you are a Senior can
Sometimes your aging parents will absolutely refuse to move under
any circumstances. In that case, offer them solutions. You can't be
with them all the time. They can't be left alone. So ask them what
the solution might be? Just being faced with having to solve the
problem will encourage them to let go and let you decide for them.
If they are worried about what to do with 40 years of accumulated
possessions, help them choose what to take, get them out of their
house and into their new senior community first. Then you can clear
the house of their excess stuff. You can't do it when they are still
living in their new home. It's too traumatic for everyone concerned.
If you can't take care of the move yourself, hire someone through
NAPO National Association of Professional Organizers, or NASMM
National Association of Senior Move Managers to do it for you. You
can find a professional near you through their national website.
On the day of the big move, pack a suitcase and/or a banker's box
for your senior in preparation for the move. Mark it carefully and
be responsible for it. It should contain all critical papers,
medications, valuable jewelry and any other important documents you
can think of. Moving is very unsettling and the fear for Seniors of
losing important things is great. Seniors can fall into a state of
panic if they cannot find certain items. Help them feel safe about
these things. Take them out of their home before the movers arrive
and don't deliver them to their new home until it has been unpacked
and completely set up. I like to tell my clients that their parents
will feel like they've been "beamed like Star Trek" into their new
home and, it will feel like home - beds made, food in the frig,
everything put away, cable TV installed, pictures on the wall,
mementos on display.
In their new Senior Community, your parents will be watched and
cared for around the clock. You will be assured that they are eating
and drinking - a lot of seniors "forget" to do this and fall ill.
They will make new friends and have new people to tell their old
stories to. The can share life experiences with their peers. They
will also be intellectually stimulated once again, which might bring
back some of their lost cognitive abilities. They will be encouraged
to re engage in the world-and most importantly, they will be SAFE.
Once they have moved, you will feel better too! You will be
relieved that they are safe and watched over. You will know that
they are eating properly and drinking fluids. You will know that
their lives are now richer, with new friends and lots of activities
to look forward to. You will enjoy your visits with them once again
and you will get your own life back in the process.
Marilyn Ellis, "America's Organizer Coach", founded Lighthouse
Organizers, LLC so she could "help people navigate through their
busy and challenging lives." She is an Author, Speaker, Professional
Organizer, Certified Life Coach and Senior Move Manager. The first
time she helped a senior move to assisted living, she was hooked.
The satisfaction she received from not only helping the senior but
also guiding the family through all the dynamics concerned was so
great that it has been the "most enjoyable" part of her business.
She is a member of NAPO, NASMM and also current president of SF East
Bay Chapter of International Coach Federation (ICF) To learn more
about Marilyn, her books, services, products,and speaking topics,
visit her website at
or call her at 1-866-379-6440.