Parenting Your Parent

Watch out for role reversal when you start taking care of an elderly parent

If your parents are unable to care for themselves, it is often an unavoidable feeling. While you tie their shoelaces, change their diaper and help them walk, it does feel like you are now their parent.

Regardless of the circumstances, you are not, and never will be, their parent. Although many of the same techniques work when dealing with them (such as distraction while performing a task), viewing the relationship between parent and child as reversed is potentially dangerous to both of you.

To your parent, it is humiliating and dehumanizing. To you, the reversal in roles will only cause frustration. You will end up asking yourself the age old question: "Why doesn't he listen to what I have to say and do it?"

If you treat your parent as an adult, you will both do better and feel better. Knowing when to intervene is difficult, but you can learn. You need to respect their independence but also protect their safety and welfare.

The fine line between caregiving and parenting
If one parent is mentally competent, trust in his or her authority. Do not usurp that role. Your role is to support the competent spouse and offer help and encouragement from the sidelines. If you are caring for a lone parent or two parents who are unable to care for themselves, you must step in when safety to themselves and others becomes an issue.

What are you to do if your parent needs to make other choices but refuses to do so? Get outside advice from doctors, social workers, clergymen, anyone they will listen to and respect.

Keep in mind that your parent's decisions are based on different priorities than your own. Your main concern is for their safety and well being. Their main concern may be the quality of their life, not the quantity. Understanding their point of view will help you avoid a battle.

If you face a situation where you don't know how much to intervene, contact a geriatric case manager or social worker. They are well versed in these matters. If you don't know where to find one, contact me. I will be able to put you in contact with an agency, for free, who will be able to help you find the geriatric case manager or social worker you need.

Mary Waggoner is a work-at-home-mom to Elizabeth and step-son Zach. Her business, Elderly Care Konnection, researches and coordinates services for seniors and their caregivers. She is also the local director for the Mom's Network Exchange in Jacksonville, Florida, and is a PartyShop affiliate. "With all of that, I am a busy woman who enjoys her kids, her husband, and life."