Once upon a time, before you were your mother’s caregiver, she was your mother and you her child. And despite the eighty-two years that have passed, she is still your mother, and you, still her child, albeit a grown one. Yes, there is a similarity in the responsibilities you are now undertaking, but parents remain our parents and we, their children. And with that comes a lifelong relationship accompanied by our very own, totally unique, baggage.
The balance of that lifelong relationship starts to alter with time. Valued independence starts to wane. A fall resulting in a broken hip or an unexplained wrong turn leads to a police escort home. Whatever the scenario as Mr. Dylan would say, “times they are a changin’.”
Time brings change, but there is also a permanence, a core, a being to our parents that I think they would like us to know about. So, it is on their behalf that I speak:
Please walk in my shoes: Remember I took care of our home, of you, I ran a business, gave you your first driving lesson, helped with your homework, cared for your children, delivered Meals on Wheels, coached your little league team, worked after all of you were grown. Now that’s all gone and there is little I can do to bring it back.
Please remember I am not invisible: You talk about me as though I am a phantom, despite sitting right next to you. Please stop using those pronouns: “he and she.” It’s especially hurtful when you accompany me to the doctor and the two of you talk about me, around me but not to me. I may not understand everything, but I am a presence.
Please let me decide for myself: Yes, I know I should have someone at home helping me. But, I’ll tell you something, if I don’t think I have a problem, I’m probably going to resist and be very stubborn and make all of you very angry. Wait awhile and ask me again or if you tell me that it would bring you peace of mind to know there is somebody in the house, I just may say “yes.” As it has always been, it brings pleasure to us parents, knowing we can make you kids happy.
As adult children, we are eager to help our parents because we love them or out of a sense of responsibility. Whatever your motivation, please listen to the voice of your parents. It is their story of a lifetime, now entering a new chapter.
Miriam Zucker, LMSW, C-ASWCM, is the founder of Directions in Aging based in New Rochelle, New York. As an eldercare consultant, she has helped older adults and their families find strategies and solutions to the challenges of aging with dignity. She has served has a faculty instructor at the Brookdale Center for Healthy Aging of Hunter College. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.