By Lisa Kaufman, CMC, CTRS, EOLD
I was in a meeting with a lovely woman the other day, and she shared how her father is aging and probably shouldn’t drive any more. She said her brother’s approach was to say no more driving and take away the keys. Just like that. Wow! Is it any wonder the folks are hiding stuff from us? This isn’t just driving we’re talking about. This is the loss of freedom to go where you want, when you want. And that is big.
That puts me in a mind of how kids can often “lay down the law” with their parents and assume the role of “parenting” them. Hang on a sec here. Who asked you to do this? Probably no one. And do the kids fully understand what this change, or any change for that matter, represents to the parent? The loss and grieving it will produce for them? Put aside that it might actually need to be done. At some point, for most of us, a loss of independence will happen one day. I’m talking about how to perceive this change, and why parents are so resistant, apart from the obvious.
Let’s assume the kids are doing this out of love and concern for their parents. But do they have all of the facts, or are they jumping to conclusions? And why is “parenting your parents” a myth?
Well first of all, your parents are still legal adults, with all the rights and responsibilities that come with it. They have been doing some of these activities for years; way before you were born they will remind you. Secondly, they are the parent, and not the other way around. Their role as the authority figure doesn’t have an expiration date. So when a child tries to usurp that role, a Power Struggle will ensue. That is exactly why this is so difficult and why it is a myth.
You will never become their parent, that is/was their job. Let me repeat: you will never become their parent. You will always be seen as the child, no matter how accomplished you have become or how correct you are about an action that needs to be taken. They don’t want you to tell them what they can or cannot do. Being right should not be the motivation. (Safety is the primary motivation).
However, we want to know how to do this? The truth to this myth is you can’t. YOU can’t. Parents can hear this news from an expert, and they can’t hear it when you say it. An expert in aging and medicine can step up as the voice of authority and remove the power struggle. An Aging Life Care Manager™ can be that “voice of authority” and have the expertise to be the bearer of bad news, but in a respectful way. They come with no baggage so there is no other role for them to play. It could be an effective way to mitigate changes without all of the drama, or at least much of it.
The point of all of this is to say, your parents just want you to be their kids. They don’t want you to take over their lives, they don’t need parenting, and they don’t want you managing every aspect of their routine or healthcare. They want you to play the role they know and understand, even if they have dementia. Be their child.
Love them for who they are, were, and will become. That is all you need to do. Let someone else be the bad guy. Yes, be the Power of Attorney, the decision maker for super important things when they can longer do so. But do that part behind the scenes if possible. Be their son or daughter, niece or nephew. They didn’t ask you to become their parent. Respect that role as theirs, and honor the changes that are happening. What they really want is just for you to come visit more often…