Go Ask Mom

Go Ask Mom

Amanda Lamb: Reverse parenting

Posted May 20, 2012
Updated May 21, 2012

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. Amanda Lamb with mom

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.

Amanda is the mom of two, a reporter for WRAL-TV and the author of several books including three on mothering. Find her here on Mondays. Follow her mother's story daily on her CaringBridge site.


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  • MIM May 25, 2012

    We are going through the same thing in our family with my 51 year old sister-in-law who was diagnosed late last summer with Glioblastoma (an aggressive form of malignant brain cancer, hers is inoperable). Absolutely heartbreaking. Within less than a month of diagnosis she was disabled too. Now she can no longer even speak. Sadly, we're working with hospice now. :( We know we're not alone in our journey. We remain rooted in our faith that gives us the strength to face each day.

  • AF Flight Nurse May 21, 2012

    Dear Amanda, what a wonderful tribute to your mom. My mom had a similar problem with a benign tumor which was resistant to radiation. You will not regret the things you do for your parents when they are unable to care for themselves. May you be be blessed seven fold for your efforts.

  • Supie May 21, 2012

    there are as many different aspects to "reverse parenting" as there are types of parents and children. My journey has me on my knees a lot too. I've always thought of myself as having learned so much from the way I was parented..well, this phase of our lives is putting it to the test. Thank God for the intent to follow the path of compassion with integrity. It holds one close to God's heart, and that matters everyday.

  • brendagailsaunders May 21, 2012

    Really enjoyed your heart felt article. Believe me I am down on my knees daily. I will remember your Mom and yourself when I am down on my knees! I can't even walk without him holding my hand!

  • NCishome May 21, 2012

    When we were born we did not get the manual on how to it would be for us to be caring for our adult parents. We take everything they taugh us and things we learn along the way to care for them. I found myself caring for my Mom after a fall, which lead to her no longer being able to live alone. The fall only brought out the demintia that she had been hiding and I was not seeing. I have found myself leaning on friends and asking for help when needed. I do not regret this at all and have enjoyed having Mom with me. We joke, laugh, and even cry. Just be sure to take some me time, that is one thing I am trying to learn myself. Thank you for blogging your journey.

  • pirategirl12 May 20, 2012

    Thinking of you and praying for strength and peace for you both. I have been in your shoes and we made SURE that mama maintained her dignity at all times. I told her that I was so glad that I was able to do something to help her to thank her for raising me. Miss her dearly!

  • mdwrfw May 20, 2012

    Dear Amanda, I am so deeply touched by your posts.This experience will bless you and your family more than you will ever know.Your love and compassion for your mother will be something your children will never forget.I am proud of you!