Parenting is the first time in most of our lives that we learn to put someone else’s needs before our own.
As soon as a child is born, we are called on to feed, diaper, clothe and care for our infants. As our children grow, their needs change. The physical needs decrease, but there are new emotional needs and let’s not forget the transportation needs - to school, to birthday parties and to activities.
Unfortunately, none of this prepares us for the next phase in our adult lives — parenting our parents. Most of us in some form or fashion will eventually be in this situation with one or both of our parents. Hopefully, it is something that you gradually transition to as your parents age. But, in some cases, as in mine, a severe health crisis puts you there a lot faster than you expected.
In one month, my mother went from functioning normally, working full time and driving, to being completely disabled. It wasn’t a situation that either of us anticipated or knew how to handle. But, like bringing a newborn home from the hospital without a manual, it is amazing how quickly one adapts to this new, often, frightening role reversal.
From dressing to grooming to feeding your parents, suddenly what you never could have imagined as normal becomes normal because you love them and want to nurture them in the same way they did for you as a child.
In many ways, it is harder because if your parents still have cognitive abilities, as my mother does, the shift is so embarrassing to them. The key is to preserve their dignity and your own emotional stability at the same time. It is a tricky balance.
Ultimately, the role reversal can be a beautiful way to honor your parents and a way to connect with what really matters in life - love of family, kindness and compassion. It is enough to bring even a skeptical journalist like myself to my knees. And believe me, I’ve spent a lot of time on my knees lately.