Hey Y'all!

It took me awhile to get here, but alas I'm finally joining the blogosphere of bloviation. It took a rant floating around in my head to send me toward this journey, but so be it. We'll have some fun here too. I promise. Thanks for stopping by! Don't forget to leave me a comment or two. ~ diane

Sunday, May 30, 2010

When the Child Becomes the Parent

Rollin’ up the pant legs because I’m about to step in it. I can’t help it. It’s a subject that bewilders my mind and one I’ve never been able to resolve. This situation of aging parents becoming their children’s responsibility.

Stop right there. Admit it. You just bristled at the mere mention of it, didn’t you? How dare you! What loving child wouldn’t want to care for their aging parents? Right? Well, yes, but . . . let’s talk about that for a moment.

When I was younger, my 70-something maternal grandmother took care of her 90-something year old mother in her Amarillo home. Granny was bedridden and required diapers. This was long before Depends disposables, and Grandma, not owning a washer or dryer, had to cart urine-saturated clothes, diapers, and bed linens to the laundromat seven days a week. One day, Grandma fell and broke her hip, then had a stroke while in the hospital. She was permanently paralyzed on her left side, basically bed-ridden the rest of her years. Granny was moved into a nursing home where she later died, and not long afterward, we moved Grandma into our home in Tulsa, where my mother cared for her as best she could. I watched my mother age about 10 years in just a few months. Eventually, the task became too overwhelming. Then began the long nightmare of moving Grandma from one nursing home to another. Which is a whole other subject for another day . . .

At the time, the complicated dilemma didn’t register in my mind: providing a caring and loving environment for an elderly parent in your home, thus giving up your own life, and in many cases, your life’s savings; versus finding a retirement home, nursing facility, or ACLF for them. In many cases the second is not an alternative because the cost is prohibitive. There are thousands of beautiful, well-kept facilities that take wonderful care of senior adults, but they come with a hefty price tag. So what do you do? Turn Mom and Dad out on the street? Of course not.

Now that I’m my parents’ age (how did THAT happen?), I’m in a rare situation in that my mother is no longer living, and my 86 year old father is living on his own in a wonderful retirement community here in Nashville. After their experience caring for my grandmother, Mom and Dad were careful to make provisions for their own retirement years so they wouldn’t have to depend on their kids. I love my father and would gladly welcome him into our home if he needed a place to live. But I’m so grateful his health is good and he can still be independent.

But so many friends of ours find themselves on a different path. Case in point. “Cindy” and “Bill” (not their real names) are dear friends of ours. Their children are grown and gone. They enjoy their grandchildren, and with Bill near retirement, they were looking forward to traveling. But Cindy’s parents were not in good health. Her mother is wheel-chair bound and her father suffers from Alzheimer’s, so they can no longer live on their own. Finances prohibited them from moving into an assisted living facility, so instead they moved in with Cindy and Bill.

That was a couple years ago. Now, Cindy and Bill’s lives are no longer their own. Cindy’s mother smothers her every movement, and her father is out of touch with reality. The other day he removed every piece of Cindy’s underwear from her dresser drawer and put it in the trash, which was picked up before she knew what had happened. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Cindy and Bill’s finances are drained, and I’m guessing they’re about to lose their minds. But what can they do?

There are so many factors that come into play in these scenarios. For many, they feel trapped. For others, they feel guilty for wishing their parents could move out. They may resent the siblings whose lives are unfairly “detached” from the responsibility. They may be angry as they watch their savings evaporate while providing for their parents.

And yet, I vividly remember a scene in a movie about this topic. A gentle, elderly woman in a nursing home wept as she told of her children who never visited her. She cradled her empty arms. “I gave them life. I nursed them at my breast. I gave them everything because I loved them. But they have no time for me now. Not one of them.”

So I’ll ask you again, what’s the answer? What’s the “right” alternative? Granted, every situation is different. Every family history and dynamic is unique. But as our life-spans extend longer and longer, and more seniors need long-term care and assistance, more middle-agers find themselves at a crossroads, asking these hard questions.

I wish I had the answers. But this much I do know. For those who walk in Cindy and Bill’s shoes, they need massive amounts of prayer and truckloads of TLC from the rest of us. They need us to “parent-sit” so they can have a night off. They need a shoulder to cry on and a listening ear, not lectures. They need vacations. Lots of them. And so much more . . .

Life is never easy. But it’s especially complicated when the child becomes the parent, and the parent(s) need to move in. What say you on this difficult subject?

*Stock photos, not personal photographs.


  1. Your blog tore at my heart. My mother spent most of a year living away from my dad as she cared for her bedridden mother in another town. Daddy would drive there every week end and a few times she was able to come home. It was just the two of them and I know my dad was lonely during that year. After he died we moved my mother to Tulsa where she lived in an apartment, assisted living then nursing home. In the end she didn't know any of us. I think of her every day and wish the end of her life could have been different. Now I'm nearing that time in my life. My husband and I have made arrangements for our last years so our children won't have that burder. Still, they will be tied to us in other ways that will steal their freedom and break their hearts if they are caring people, and they are. I don't know if many books have been written on this subject but with your talent you could write one that would give hope and help to children who have become the parent.

  2. Diane, your comments are well placed. The end of life for seniors is hard on everyone especially the children. My 96 year-old mother came to live with me some two years ago and you are accurate - it changed my world. One avenue of assistance is finding a Caregivers Support Group. I initiated one at our church Forest Hills Baptist. It is intended to provide a place where people can be real about the feelings this caregiving role conjures up; provide a place of information sharing; and vitally, a place to pray for each other. That point of connection is very helpful in dealing with the massive pressures that caregiving can generate. Thank you for your sensitivity to this issue.

  3. When it's our turn, it's our turn. The best we can do is to man up and take up the mantle. It's the least we owe our forebears. We're not just to take their mantle; we will have to give back, out of decency and principle.

    Amber Care