When Children Become Parents


It is usually a formidable day when parents and grandparents celebrate the birth of a new member of the family into its fold. That child becomes the center point of attention and activity for some while until another takes its place or it can begin to function more independently. However, this article is not aimed at a newborn’s entrance into the world. Rather, it has to do with the necessity that is becoming much more commonplace with the advent of more sophisticated medical practices prolonging life. This article is concerned with the care that elderly parents may require from their own children as a result of their inability to care for themselves.


Whether the problems requiring such care are of a serious medical nature such as Alzheimer’s disease or just the afflictions of old age which deny a person the ability to care of themselves as they once did. Certainly, the placement of a parent in a nursing home or assisted living facility requires the time needed to be spent visiting and making sure that their needs are being met. However, for those elderly people who choose to remain in their homes, the amount of time and care is proportionately much greater. In addition, for those who have both parents in need of care and attention, the ante is doubled. Then, there is the problem of those children who have moved away from their original roots and their parents in order to maintain jobs, etc. this scenario exacerbates the problem one-hundred-fold since travel expenses and heightened anxiety levels usually accompany such arrangements.

Any and all of these arrangements are complicated by serious emotional factors which tend to limit the effectiveness of any care that is rendered. One of the main obstacles is the role reversal that occurs when parent and children reverse their historical roles. Parents tend to look upon themselves as being independent and that they, not their children, are dependent. This factor alone can cause a good deal of conflict between parent and child because of the lack of acceptance on the part of the parents as well as the child who may have been accustomed to being able to go to their parents in times of need but no longer are able. For the parent, there may be considerable resentment because of the dependency factor. No one, no matter what the age, enjoys being dependent on another person for help. Being able to depend on someone is one thing but being dependent is quite another. The first involves choices that can be made but the latter does not because the needs are greater than whatever choices might be made. in other words, the parents feel stuck!

Another major factor is the time that is taken away from the child-caregiver’s own lifestyle including both their own family/children as well as activities that may no longer be able to be enjoyed because of the demands of their caregiving role. At first, they might try juggling both roles but, not unusually, a choice needs to be made at some point because they cannot “serve two masters.” They may also need to contend with the objections of family members who resent time taken away from them in order to care for grandparents. Still another factor is the guilt that both the parent and the caregiving-child suffer because of the conditions that prevail and the limitations that are placed on both as a result. There never seems to be enough time to be spent just in a social context because the demands supersede that luxury. As a result, there is a breakdown in the relationships that ensue which, again, can result in more conflict. “You never have any time just to sit and talk with me/us anymore” might be the hewn cry of parents while the child is desperately trying to keep “body and soul together.”

There are no easy answers to this dilemma so that any suggestions I might make might be considered trite in light of the seriously overwhelming factors that are associated with it. The two elements, though, that stand out in my mind, are those of balance and communication ~ including effectively being able to communicate with oneself. The first, balance is something that is personal and essential if we’re going to deal with the situation-at-hand. If our lives go severely out of balance, then our ability to handle it, the situation, as well as our own personal lives. Guilt tends to create imbalance. Blame is another impediment. Anger over the situation or not being able to accept the situation for what it really is (reality bound thinking) will lead to perdition. Dealing with the feelings and reality of the situation forthrightly is ESSENTIAL in order to maintain a sense of balance. Caregivers may need to make some tough choices which their parents don’t like but as long as those choices do not interfere or limit the parent’s day-to-day welfare or functioning, they must do so.

Establishing a solid base of communication is very important to deal with the dilemma. This would include that communication with parents as well as with one’s own family members in order to create a mutual understanding. Yes, there will need to be sacrifices made but there may be types of compensations that can be brought to bear to offset those sacrifices including the planning of special time spent with either the caregiver’s family members or with their parents that would translate into quality time that would be both welcome and beneficial for all concerned. In the initial phase of caregiving, should rampant feelings that will hinder the process become attached to the caregiving, the problem can only grow worse with time to the point that there may be no turning back. Prevention is always worth much more than fixing problems.

(30 July 2014)

Both as a consultant and author, Charles Bonasera’s story-telling have motivated people to change patterns and resolve problems in their lives. All of his books contain valuable, practical lessons that people can easily apply to bettering and managing their lifestyles. He has also written a myriad of articles which can be found on his website at www.charlesmbonasera.com.

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