I often get asked how to parent a parent. Parents do not want a parent. Children do not want to parent a parent. But in reality, a role reversal does eventually happen. A physical event can trigger a very quick transition. A stroke causing paralysis can leave the parent without the ability to independently eat, toilet, walk or conduct other basic daily activities. Or, the slow and continual march of Alzheimer’s eats away at the cognitive functions until little is left. Let’s not think about how to parent a parent. Instead, let’s think about how to honor a parent. Here are a few tips:
Retain dignity. Your parent is worthy of respect regardless of his or her current physical or mental capacity. Do not speak in a demeaning or parental voice. You may need someone other than yourself to monitor your voice. Most people do not realize the tone or demeanor of one’s voice when speaking to another. Simple ways to retain dignity are appearances of dress and grooming. Keep your parent looking sharp even if nobody will see them during the day except you or the caregiver. Allow privacy as much as possible for bathing and toileting.
Have grace. In the case of dementia, your parent can no longer cognitively process as before and will deteriorate. A child can learn and grow, retain and improve. Your parent cannot. You can become extremely frustrated and overwhelmed at times. You have a choice to honor and love your parent in the worst of conditions, just as he or she loved you as a child. You can return the grace your parent once provided to you.
Take breaks. If you are the caregiver for your parent, then respite is key. You cannot honor your parent when you are burned out. Caregiving is hard, 24/7 relentless work. If you do not get a break, you will become frustrated, angry, and depressed. You are the most important person in the life of your parent, and you need to take care of yourself in order to take care of your parent.
Do not put your parent in a place of embarrassment and failure. As a parent declines, you can purposely push them into failure, or you can understand their limitations and find a way for them to succeed. When my mother was 84 years old, she had a minor accident in a parking lot. Then, she had mild cognitive impairment. I asked to go for a ride along to check her driving reactions and abilities. She was more comfortable making a series of right turns rather than turning left on a very busy multilane street. She was already nervous. So instead of pushing her to a potential point of embarrassment or failure by requiring her to turn left on a busy street, we went her long way around the block. We went out to eat and then I drove home.
I loved my mom. I wanted to keep her and others safe. Thus, we needed to drive together. The time came quickly when she could no longer drive or live independently. As her dementia progressed, she spent seven years in an adult foster care home. She passed away on Christmas Day, 2022. I honored her by taking care of her affairs and ensuring she had great personal care.