ACOA's Caring for Parents

Since my folks moved in over a year ago, I have experienced a myriad of emotions. Many of which I have addressed in articles here. Over the months two emotions that continued to explode within me, though, were anger and sorrow. Lately I found myself crying a good deal for no apparent reason. When I attended a grandson's school play based on the musical Annie and when I found myself crying because Annie was an orphan, I knew I had reached the breaking point.

I have been asking the Lord for direction on what to do and where to go to find help. This week He brought an answer. While doing some research for a manual we are writing I came across the book After the Tears: Helping Adult Children of Alcoholics Heal Their Childhood Trauma by Jane Middelton-Moz and Lorie Dwinell. One chapter in particular jumped off the page to me, A Pain Too Deep (ACOA's Taking Care of Elderly Parents). As I began to read, it was as if the authors had been living with me for the past year. This is an excerpt from that chapter:

Many of the Adult Children who are responsible for elderly parents are themselves in their sixties or seventies and are taking care of parents in their eighties and nineties. For many, this is the time they believed they would finally be able to relax. they have achieved some level of financial security and career satisfaction and often have new and improved relationships with siblings and parents. Taking care of parents often triggers "going home again" feelings. This tests their limits and can cause some ACOA's to revert to earlier roles and painful interactions with both siblings and parents. While some elderly parents who need care may have gone through recovery, others may be as emotionally difficult as they were--or may even be worse.

Adult children often feel caught between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand they don't want to assume a caretaking role again. On the other hand, they feel that taking care of their elderly parents is the right thing to do, and they experience tremendous guilt if they even contemplate saying no. Some remain in denial and thoughts run the gamut from, "It's just for a little while, and Dad will be back to his old self in no time. I can handle this," to "That was then and this is now. I'm an adult now, how hard can it be? I'll just leave the past in the past."

Although they may be geographically separated from parents, many ACOA's are often still psychologically attached to them. When making decisions about care for elderly parents, Adult Children must work toward being psychologically separate. It is essential that they set limits with parents and siblings regarding what they are and are not willing to do.

That last piece of advice comes a bit late for me, but perhaps may be of help to you if you are just beginning the journey of caring for parents. If one of your parents was an alcoholic when you were a child, caring for them is going to bring up issues and emotions in your life. I went to counseling years ago and thought I had dealt with those issues from my childhood, but I never anticipated that caring for my parents would bring up old emotions once again. I have learned from this book that unless I can set limits on my parents' demands or behavior, I am still allowing them to define me.

If we are not able to set healthy limits, our own emotional and physical health will be effected and our frustration may well spill over to our friends, coworkers, significant others, or children... It is important to accept that it is what it is and be realistic about expectations.

I can see that a new phase in our journey is beginning. God has brought us all to this point for His divine purposes. I never cease to be amazed at God's plan for generational healing. If we are willing to be the conduit through whom He can bring healing, He will pour it out upon our family, both forward and backward through the generations.

If you are an ACOA and are caring for your parents or planning to, you might consider getting support. Reading the book may be part of that. It is not just about eldercare, but each chapter holds truth about what ACOA's face in healing. I will warn you, the final chapter about seeking spirituality falls short for those of us who know Jesus Christ. The principle of spiritual input is valid, but the methods offered do not line up with Jesus' statement, "No one comes to the Father except through Me." If you decide to read the book, take the fruit and spit out the seeds.