Moral obligations to assist one’s aging parents are commonly felt. They can leave adult children feeling overburdened and neglectful of their own families, personal needs and goals. —Jane E. Brody
Personal health columnist Jane E. Brody published a piece in Tuesday's New York Times in which she effectively dissected the emotionally charged role reversal that takes place when circumstances compel adult children to care for their elderly parents.
Ultimately, Brody concluded that empathy and honesty are invaluable tools in meeting the emotional needs of a graying parent.
“Moral obligations to assist one’s aging parents are commonly felt,” she reported. “They can leave adult children feeling overburdened and neglectful of their own families, personal needs and goals.
“It often helps to try to put yourself in your aging parent’s position and think about what you might want and need under similar circumstances. Also helpful is to sit down and have a heart-to-heart talk with your parent about expectations, deciding which you are able to meet and which might require outside assistance. Experts do warn, however, against promising never to place a parent in a nursing home.”
But the need for clear communication isn’t the only consideration to make in preparing to be a caregiver for an ailing mother or father. Last week Rosanna Fey penned a piece for The Atlantic with a sharp focus foreshadowed by its forthright headline, “How caring for aging parents affects a career.”
“While managing two terminally ill parents, I did my best to juggle their needs with my company’s,” wrote Fey, who worked at a technology marketing firm she had co-founded. “On multiple occasions I drove from Boston to New Jersey for a single dinner meeting just to reassure a client that I was ‘on top of things.’ Perhaps most frustrating was that the professional caregivers we’d hired created a host of new issues to deal with, from negligence to flagrant stealing. My attention was constantly torn between the office and my parents’ home.”
Caring for an aging parent requires a certain amount of finesse when complete role reversal isn’t a very viable option. Along those lines, Courtland Milloy published a first-person article for the Washington Post earlier this month that adroitly illustrated the inherent uncertainty of reversing roles with one's parents.2 comments on this story
“I’ve spent the past few days with my parents at their home in Shreveport, La., mostly exploring ways to help meet their changing health needs,” Milloy reported. “Some elder-care experts say that when aging parents stop acting in their own best interest, the grown children must ‘reverse roles’ and simply make them do the right thing. Good luck with that, fellow baby boomers.
“Both of my parents were born in the rural South and grew up during the Depression. Along with their marriage vows was a pledge to never go broke. They earned enough to build a house, pay off the mortgage, send three kids to college and save enough to keep themselves relatively secure in old age. I couldn’t ‘reverse roles’ with them if my life depended on it.”