Who Is the Parent and Who Is the Child?

If you haven't said it you have no doubt heard someone else exclaim, "Oh, no, I've become my mother!" (or my father if you are a guy). It's that moment in life when we hear ourselves saying something our parent always said or doing something our parent always did that we were sure we would never say or do. And suddenly, there we are looking and sounding exactly like our parent.

Well, as shocking as that moment is, an even more startling one is when we realize, "Oh, no, I've become my mother's mother!" And the reason that has such an impact is not because I now look or sound like Grandma, it's because truly I have become my mother's mother. The first time it hit me was when I heard myself say, "You need to eat your vegetables. They're good for you." Was I actually saying that to my parents? Once I became aware, throughout the next few days I heard myself saying things like, "Be careful. That's really hot" and "If you eat that cookie now you're not going to want dinner."

It was not only words, though. I also was watching out to make sure they had a warm jacket if they were going outside and that they took the right dose of medicine. Somehow, somewhere along the line, we had reversed roles and I now was caring for them as they had once cared for me. I had read about this phenomenon, but really had not fully understood the challenges that it brings.

There are many similarities and also many differences between our roles as parents of our own children and the role we take on in caring for our parents. In both cases we are responsible for the well-being and safety of another human being. In both cases we must make decisions regarding care, nourishment, recreation, and other aspects of daily life. The big difference, though, is that we are working to release our children more and more as the years go by until one day they are off to live their own lives. With our parents, the opposite is true. As time goes by they become more and more dependent upon us.

I was really unprepared for this. (I hear myself saying that a lot lately.) When Mom and Dad moved in with us they had been living alone for almost seven years. Although the family had helped them with certain things, they were pretty independent folks. The day after Mom moved in with us, she fell and broke her pelvis. There followed five weeks in rehab. Since Dad is legally blind, he had relied on Mom to do many things for him throughout the day. Suddenly he needed someone to help him a good deal of the time.

We kept thinking that when Mom came home from rehab, things would get back to "normal" and they would be pretty self-sufficient again. But we did not take into account the effects of trauma and rebab. Mom was healthy and strong again, but never really returned to her pre-fracture stage. So care for them changed a good deal at that time and has continued to increase as they grow older and need more help.

It can be challenging to find the balance between being responsible for total care and still honoring them as our parents. They still want their independence. yet sometimes they simply are not making good decisions or are doing something that could easily hurt them. My prayer is that we will find the balance with the Lord's help.

Each night I help Mom get ready for bed and then tuck her in for the night with a kiss. Last night it touched my heart that I had done that for so many years with my little ones. Now, as then, it is one of the sweetest moments of parenting.

Here's some help: