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The Difficulties Of Role Reversal

We expect parents to care for their children but rarely do we ever think that at some point, most children will end up caring for their parents when they begin to age. This role reversal is a give and take relationship, a bittersweet task that can take its toll on both parties involved. On one end, children would feel indebted to their parents, and their love for them means that they will care for them as long as the parents need them—but this could take a financial and emotional toll on them. On the other end, the parents may feel the burden of feeling like a burden—after being the provider and protector for most of their children’s lives this setup may feel alien to them.
But the reality is that there are millions of children in the USA alone that take on the role of the caregiver for their parents or other relatives—an estimated 41 million cases of free service. They take care of household chores, doctor’s trips, timing medicine, cooking food, making sure the home is safe and making decision on their parents’ behalf. Many of the tasks are mundane, like laundry and washing dishes; many hurt a pinch such as having to make a decision about having them refrain from driving, from leaving the house alone or from eating food that they used to enjoy; other decisions can be heart wrenching such as having them declared incompetent by court or having to commit them to a nursing home.

One of the first things to figure out when your parents health start declining is where they will live. Do they get to stay at their own house still, with visits every now and then? Do they move in with a relative or with you? Or do you commit them to a nursing home? In these cases, financial situation and guilt come into play. Some may have the means to commit them to a nursing home but are grappling with the guilt of “abandoning” their parents. Some would rather give them the best medical care they could get, but have very limited resources. Whichever the case is, the family would have to rally around and figure out as a unit what the best thing for the parent is. This might lead to arguments and heated discussions, but this is something that needs to be taken care of as a family.

The next thing to do is to divide the labor. Who takes care of the legal stuff? Who takes care of the bills? Who takes care of the medical appointments? Who will handle the actual hands on care? If you are a single child, you will most likely need the help of other people—relatives or paid help. If you have siblings who care about your parent, these tasks will be doled out depending on who the best fit is, or you also have the option of employing other people to do it for you such as private nurses.

You have to prepare yourself for the stresses of the situation. It will never be easy to see your parents declining, especially if the situation is compounded by dementia which is the case in many families. It is easier said than done, but you should learn to prepare yourself mentally for the frustration, depression, and physical exhaustion of caring for an aging parent. You should think of the possibility that you will lose your parents soon—in which case funeral arrangements should also be taken care of; but you should also acknowledge that this situation could go on for some time.

Because taking care of the aging parent can take such a huge emotional toll, you should never forget to take care of yourself too. Remember that you can only do so much and that you need to be healthy yourself before you can begin taking care of other people. Many caregivers have reported that they felt that their health have declined since assuming the role, and many suffer from chronic health conditions such as hypertension. When you feel yourself being overwhelmed by the enormous responsibility of it all, take time off. Ask someone else to sub for you—either a relative or a paid assistant if you must. Take a vacation to regroup and reassess the situation.