We’ve known it was coming for a long time, right? I should have been prepared. But truthfully, nothing would prepare me to accept that my parents are aging. Don’t get me wrong, they would not consider themselves as senior anything, but the reality is that it has happened, and I have not handled it with grace.
For so long, I was focused on raising my small children, and my parents became only grandparents in my eyes. Once my children were a little older and the parents hit their seventies, I got the idea that I needed to be more heavily involved in what the next two decades of my mother and my mother-in-law’s future might look like.
I started researching by reading books, searching the internet, and consulting with friends and medical professionals. I do recommend the book Being Mortal by Atul Gawande to anyone interested in aging. However, do not even think about having your parents read this book. In my mom’s words, “That was the most depressing damn book I have ever read.” This was one of the first of many mistakes I’ve made as I attempted to “parent my parents.”
I then decided that it would be an excellent idea for us to look at a “retirement village.” Note that I chose my language carefully to make it sounds as sexy as possible (another red flag, retirement village and sexy don’t typically belong together in the same sentence). More research ensued, and I found a top-of-the-line and highly-rated “village” for us to tour. My mom reluctantly agreed to this scheme, and so off my sister, my mom, and I went to tour the Taj Mahal of retirement villages. Upon arrival, I immediately started pointing out the beautiful landscaping, the American flag billowing overhead, and the huge parking lot that provided ample parking space. She was going to love it, and this was a slam dunk!
The three of us entered the community and began our tour. Unfortunately, the entrance was adjacent to the dining room, and upon entering, about 200 faces abruptly turned toward us and stared us down. As I tried to waft away the cafeteria smells, my eyes landed on a row of walkers parked in the hallway for as far as the eye could see. I’ve never had a reaction like this before, but I had to excuse myself to the bathroom where my sister would talk me out of a panic attack.
What had I done? My mom was not remotely close to being ready for a move here. Yes, she was getting older and was a grandparent, but she was also a GRAND parent. I needed her and was not ready for this at all. I didn’t want to offend our tour guide, so I pulled myself together, and we finished the tour. My mom smirked her life’s biggest smirk throughout the tour, knowing that I was dying inside. We did not visit a single other place that day, and I haven’t mentioned it since.
The lesson I learned is that no matter how old my parents are, I will never parent my parents effectively. Instead of researching, I should have been listening. Instead of making plans for her, I should have let her life continue to unfold like it has for the last seven decades. I also realize this isn’t a luxury for many of us caring for aging parents with varied medical diagnoses.
But as my parents continue to age, I’m going to remember that I can barely parent my children, I don’t need to try to parent my parents.