I realize this is supposed to be a column about parenting. And, I realize that I’m generally supposed to write about parenting children. Normally, that’s my topic. Today is different, however. Today, I’m going to talk about parenting our parents.
As healthcare allows for longer, healthier lives, many of us find ourselves in the awkward position of parenting our children while simultaneously taking more responsibility for our parents. I’m one of those people.
I still have children at home. My youngest is not yet two years old. So, I’m still an active parent with my children. I have grandchildren, too. They live all across the country, so I try to stay involved in their lives through phone and online communication. And, then there’s my dad.
My mother died almost three years ago. Since her death, my father has required more and more of our attention. He is exhibiting significant memory issues (which my brother ignores) and, while he has always been a little difficult, is getting crankier and crankier as time goes on.
Dad was a strong businessman in his day. He’s always had a strong will and voices his opinion in a way that dares you to disagree with him. And God help you if you do. He’s right, always right, and if you dare to argue, he’ll explain to you how he’s right. We’ve learned to live with it.
One of the things he’s decided is that he’s not going to spend any additional money on hearing aids. The ones he has don’t work. He can’t keep up with one-on-one conversations and has no chance of following a conversation in a room with other people.
This weekend, I took him to our family’s Ocean City condominium for our annual fall meeting. I arrived on time. He insisted I was early. We decided to take my van. It was too noisy. Apparently, he could hear my turn signal clicking, but had no idea what the sound indicated.
The drive was typical. He’d be quiet for about 20 minutes and then come up with some question. At one point, he asked, “Who’s hosting this thing?” I took that to mean who is hosting the meeting. I replied, “I don’t know. I’ll have to look at the memo.” He answered me, “What unit are they in?” And, when I didn’t know what unit the unnamed people occupied, he was not happy. Not happy at all. The funniest question of the day followed a story he told about a man who used to work with him. He told me all about this guy and his family, and then said, “He had five kids. Can you imagine having five kids?” Inside my head, I laughed. After raising 19 children, I guess I can’t imagine having five, but I honestly think he has no idea who he’s asking. Five children sounds like a walk in the park on a lovely afternoon compared to the chaos of organizing life with 19.
But, this is status quo for my dad. He doesn’t remember many of my children. He hears some types of things, but he can’t hear the range of my voice. His conversations are awkward at best. He lapses into complete silence and then comments on whatever crosses his mind. And, it doesn’t matter how out of place or inappropriate the comment might be.
He’s starting to forget to pay bills. He tells us about it, but refuses to allow us to help him with his finances. After all, he insists, he’s done it perfectly well for decades. And, while this sounds like a legitimate argument, we know that Mom paid all the bills until shortly before her death. Dad has only been managing the finances for the past three years.
So now, in addition to running kids to school, sports, acting classes, part-time jobs, and general family management, I find myself having to parent my parent. I’m handling routine business calls and cleaning up the messes that he makes when his decisions aren’t the most sound. As he gets a little older, I have no doubt those responsibilities will increase.
It’s a part of parenting that we didn’t consider when we decided to become parents. And, it is, without a doubt, the hardest parenting of all.
Rev. Kelly Crenshaw is the mom of 16 adopted kids, two biological kids, guardian of one baby girl and foster mom of dozens. Some are lesbian, some gay, some straight, and some bisexual. Kelly founded a K-12 day school where kids could have a safe, bully-free environment for learning. She is co-owner of a counseling agency that works with children and their families. Send your parenting questions to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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