As we age, so do our parents. Eventually, unfortunately, our parent may be taken ill or begin their transition to the hereafter. Seeing our parents unwell is a difficult time. We are concerned over their health, their pain, and their recovery. In addition to concerns over our parents care and comfort, other issues may surface.
Due to their illness, our parents often become our children. We become responsible for their wellbeing. We are the adult making decisions. We are the ones coordinating their care. Switching the roles of parent and child is disconcerting. Your parent, the person you have looked up to, the person who has taken care of you, the person who you would go to for support, is now incapable of taking that role. They may be unable temporarily because they are recovering from a surgery. In some cases due to the mental deterioration caused by dementia or Alzheimer’s, your parent may never be able to be the head of the family anymore. We may understand this role reversal mentally. What we may not recognize is the emotional toll this shift has on us, and our parents. As a major life change, becoming the parent of our parent is one of the top stressors we can experience. Be gentle with yourself. Notice the anger, frustration, and sadness you experience as you mourn the loss of your parent’s capabilities and need to find acceptance of the new role you must take on yourself.
Only a few of us have had perfect childhoods. The rest of us had parents who were human. Our parents made mistakes. As they learned to be parents, we experienced the results of the ups and downs of their learnings. The memories of old wounds, large and small, are awakened when our parent is ill. Old relationship conflicts are reignited as we spend more time with them now than we have in years. The entire family, now grown adults, may find themselves acting out their childhood sibling rivalries. The fear of our parent’s ill health may send us back to the mindset of that small child completely dependent on our parent. The emotional reaction of reverting back to our childhood is understandable, but may not be healthy. If you find yourself reverting back to an old role, take a moment to analyze what is coming up. Is there an issue you need to finally resolve with your parent or sibling? Is there an old hurt you need to forgive and release? Is there a need for you to finally step into your own power as an adult and stop playing the role of defenseless child? Work through your wounds on your own, with your family, and/or with a professional to help you stay centered during this difficult time.
Live Your Life
When someone we love is ill, we feel responsible for their care and often devote all our attention to their needs. We put our lives on hold for their care. We think of them before we think of ourselves. We feel their health is a priority over all else. The result is often burnout and resentment. To work through the resentment, change your mindset from an obligation to an honest desire to help. You are choosing to be responsible for their care. Switching from obligation to choice empowers you reducing your feelings of victimization. Burnout can be reduced by acknowledging that although you may be responsible for their care, you are not required to do it all yourself. Arrange a ride to the doctor if you can’t take off from work. Hire a caretaker to free up the amount of time you personally spend on daily needs. You are still a good child even if you are not the one physically there every moment. Release yourself from feeling enslaved by your parent’s needs and live your life again. In doing so you will not only do you feel better but will also be able to share more joy and support to your parent.