Many of us have done it. Many of my friends are doing it now. And to a person, they frequently comment, “It just doesn’t feel right!” Many of us get to a place in our lives when we are called on to parent our parent. Because of the blessing of health care, many of our parents live past their mind’s capacity to allow them to live independently. The ones on whom we counted to provide a compass for our actions by their standing firm in who they have been are now not able to hold the center of their identity or stand on their own.
These people who have been “there” in our psyche even when they may not have been there in physical form, lost their mental or physical agility that was characteristic of them (and thus our relationships with them) throughout their adult life. We are now in a position where we have to do things for them and make decisions for them that are for their well-being.
And we discover that they don’t take giving up their freedom anymore than we liked someone taking away our freedom when we were younger. They rebel. They resist. They get angry and strike out. They too are feeling scared and confused even as they lose their ability to navigate the relationships of their lives. And when I talk with them, they are saying the same thing that their adult children are saying: “It just doesn’t feel right!”
So what do we do? Unfortunately the answers are as awkward and confusing as the answers to effective parenting of children. But, as with young children, respectful conversation is central. Even if there is limited cognitive capacity, it can help if they feel you have some idea that they are losing so much of who they are. And realizing that we are losing so much of who we are in relationship to them helps us be more graceful with our own feelings. Hard decisions will have to be made and anger and resentment will undoubtedly be part of the equation. But, just like your parent had to courage to make hard decisions for you, it takes courage to make decisions for them.
Sometimes in the midst of these tough times, “It just doesn’t feel right!” So, showing up and offering forgiveness to each other is really important. Even if we don’t feel right, being in it together can help. And remember, touch each other tenderly. When we were young, even when things weren’t working well, a warm embrace could ease the pain.