Role Reversal - Becoming Your Parent's Guardian

Visiting Dog's Association brings cheer to the seniors at the Skilled Nursing Facility
Visiting Dog's Association brings cheer to the seniors at the Skilled Nursing Facility

It creeps in slowly on little cat's feet when it begins, the hesitation over making minor decisions. When our parents begin to seek help on the small issues they've handled with grace for as long as we can remember, it can be a surprising development.

Not long after leaving my parent's home to start a life of my own, I began to notice uncertainties developing; seeing a shift in the way things had always been. It seemed as if overnight I was asked for advice on minor things like how much rice to cook for the family gathering or how long it should boil. I reminded my mother that she had cooked for a family of five for many years. Why was the uncertainty starting now?

In some ways, being asked for advice from a parent was flattering. I presumed this was her way of giving me a voice in the matter or letting me know my value had increased now that I was grown. My opinions, at long last, had importance.

What I didn't know was that the tide had already begun to turn. The child was starting to become the parent.

Things went along smoothly for years as our new relationship began to emerge. I found myself becoming more of an equal to someone who had always represented authority, control and dominance. I was entering the age of awakening responsibility.

Mutual friends who've reached this point in their lives share the same discoveries of this new found responsibility that has grown with time. The same thing is happening to my long-time friend in Florida. From the days when we met back in our early twenties, survived wild and crazy adventures, disastrous marriages, radical career changes, we now find ourselves in the same boat, as caregivers to our aging parents.

We're the ones called upon to provide direction and advice.

Seniors enjoy the gift of fresh flowers
Seniors enjoy the gift of fresh flowers

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Changes in Roles

This awesome responsibility is not to be taken lightly. It arrives with its own baggage, setbacks and joy. My best friend relayed the frustration that goes with the task of trying to convince her mother to use her supplemental oxygen like she is supposed to. Another challenge is trying to convince her to use her hearing aide. It gets frustrating to repeat one's self, or to be interrupted mid-sentence by someone who at a time in the past would have said, "Not now, Mother is speaking." But the shoe is on the other foot for each of us.

Seniors enjoy musical entertainment in the common room
Seniors enjoy musical entertainment in the common room

A Late-Life Career

A stay-at-home mom of the fifties, my mother began her mid-life career with seriously limited, practically non-existent employment experience. She had left nurse's training halfway through to get married in 1945. After thirty years of marriage, she came to live with me when her marriage ended. Completing some vocational training, she embarked on a new career as a nurse aide at the age of fifty.

Suddenly, I found myself giving out advice about dating and apartment hunting much as I had received in the long distant past. That was a new development, a venture into the reversal of roles.

Mom's new life as a single woman and sole provider would continue over the next thirty years. On her eightieth birthday, at long last, she officially retired from a second career as a Teacher's aide. Through her experience of taking a job outside the home, her skills and confidence developed along with an inner strength. She gained a sense of accomplishment and self-worth that had previously remained untapped.

Sunrise Sunset - Fiddler on the Roof

When Mom was hospitalized for an entire month I started handling her bills on her behalf. Although I'd been a co-signer on her checking account for years, I never really looked at her accounts until then. It was an eye opening experience.

Her growing forgetfulness had begun to take its toll with auto insurance premiums overlooked and checks stuffed in the wrong envelopes. Time has marched on and I continue to handle the bill paying with no complaint from Mom. She's glad to be rid of the statement balancing and all that financial stuff.

Mom at her home in the country
Mom at her home in the country

Timely Decisions

Driving in Dallas traffic is a challenge to even the most confident driver. I worried constantly about her driving abilities and safety when she was still driving in her eighties. Considering her diminished reflexes and increased fragility, it really wasn't safe. If you can, imagine the Dallas drivers, so considerate and kind, on the road with this tiny woman. Yikes.

When she turned over her car keys to me one day, voluntarily, stating she just didn't feel confident on the road anymore, I was much relieved. Not everyone acts logically when that time comes. The issue of when to stop driving can become a huge source of friction with aging parents whose reflexes have lost their edge.

Giving up driving is a reverse milestone of the day we turn sixteen and earn the option to get behind the wheel. It's a life-altering decision seriously limiting mobility and options, making one feel truly dependent, like a small child once again.

Mom and her sister
Mom and her sister | Source

Our relationship has evolved, and yet we still manage to get by. Mom has a new role too: that of caregiver to her elder sister who, Lord willing, will turn ninety in April. What a joy to have her on our side of town living in Mom's home nearby. They share a small house, still managing to function independently in so many important ways, although home-bound by health, vision and hearing impairments. They make me proud.

Both of us have managed to survive my volatile years as a childless parent. I continue to be blessed with a loving relationship with a parent who forgives my shortcomings and frequent irritability. One thing remains certain in our relationship: It is the unshakable friendship of my Mom, my true friend. She is a blessing and reminds me in so many ways that I'm the lucky one.

Last year, Mom celebrated her eighty-ninth birthday. She's still going strong.
Last year, Mom celebrated her eighty-ninth birthday. She's still going strong. | Source

© 2009 Peg Cole

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Comments 29 comments

cygnetbrown profile image

cygnetbrown 7 years ago from Alton, Missouri

Wow! Peg! Has anyone ever told you how much you look like your mother? My Dad is 87 and he recently fell in his home and is now in a nursing home. (A nice one, if you can consider any nursing home nice.)He might be there just for a while for physical therapy but no one is sure right now. My Mom is 78 and lives in an assisted living apartment, she loves it. It is strange to see aging parents become more and more dependent while at the same time our children are becoming more independent. It makes me realize how cyclic life truly is.

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 7 years ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Cygnet - I'm so sorry about your Dad's fall. I hope your Dad is doing ok. That's never a good situation.

We got that call when Mom was 67, young for a fractured hip, but considering her bone structure and the effects of osteoporosis, it happened. At 82 she had that same hip replaced again by an incredible Dallas surgeon who was willing to perform surgery on someone her age. Other doctors had refused due to the risks. Had it not been for him, she would now be immobile, dependent on pain medication and confined to a wheel chair. We are eternally grateful.

I've been exploring "Skilled Nursing" facilities; some major improvements have been made over the years. Mom spent time in a facility during rehabilitation after surgery. The Visiting Seniors picture was taken at a facility near us.

You're right about the cyclic life. That is something I could never have imagined in my youth. Sunrise, sunset, swiftly fly the days . . .

peacenhim 7 years ago

PegCole17!! I happened upon this story this morning, and it really touched me. We all will one day be in your shoes, or in very similar circumstances. I watched my own mother take care of my grandmother for ten years. She cared for her daily, lovingly, and with the patience of the Lord enduringly, as she was unable to do anything for herself. But my mother refused to ever put her in a nursing home as she felt in her heart it was her time to give back, as my grandmother had always been the one to care for everyone else. She passed away two years ago, on my birthday, and when I visit my mother, I will have to say, the house does feel empty without her. She had such a strong loving spirit, even up to the very end. You have a very caring heart, it is not easy to care for our elders, but very rewarding! God Bless!!

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 7 years ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Hello peacenhim! Thanks for reading this hub. You're right about one day being in these shoes. It's a tough decision to make, when it becomes unsafe for your parents to live on their own.

Since my Mom's recent fall (January 9) I've been torn between the doctor's admonishment that she is "HIGH RISK" and "this will continue to get worse" and my hopes that she is safe to be on her own. I find things at her house that worry me and make me question her activities. She was over tired because she chose to move two cases of soda from where I had placed it, into a different cabinet.

Her fall cracked her L1 vertibrae and it required Kyphoplasty (under anesthesia-risky at 85) to repair and 10 days in the hospital. Now she is in a skilled nursing facility and her sister (90) is alone at home. Very distressing for all involved.

Studies have shown that elders do live longer when allowed to be in their own homes with their beloved pets. But there comes a time when it is dangerous. So I'm at that point where some tough decisions are emminent.

Your mother was an angel to care for her mother for so long and it is refreshing to know that you had a good relationship with your grandmother. So sorry for your loss, especially on your birthday. How sad. May God bless you too.

Beth100 profile image

Beth100 7 years ago from Canada

I'm almost in tears reading this. I too have become my parents' caregiver, but it is more difficult as I live across the country. They continue to claim their independence, though it is clear that somethings need to be turned over (like the car keys) but they're not ready for that. For me, it's the realization that we are all mortal and we all revert to what we were once before: children that are dependent upon our loved ones for help. Thank you for sharing a part of your life; it helps me to know that I am not the only one who feels and has this observance.

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 7 years ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Beth100, yes, the car keys are so difficult to turn loose. It is a lifestyle change that affects one's independence and the ability to do what you want, when you want. As I drive on the Dallas highways among the impatient drivers, I'm pained when I picture the slow-poke drivers as my own Mother in danger of being run off the road.

The realization that we're mortal is part of the middle aging awareness. That is also when life becomes more precious and every day is to be used to its fullest as we understand we have fewer days left than we have spent.

My sister and brother who live out of town have their own difficulties as they listen to my complaints about the ongoing struggles with our aging mother. And I try to remind myself that she will not always be with me. I fight a daily battle between guilt and frustration, as do many people my age who are elder caregivers.

Thanks so much for your touching comments. I'm so glad I met you here on HubPages.

TnFlash profile image

TnFlash 6 years ago from Tampa, Florida

Great Hub! We care for my wife's parents occasionally. It's really tough sometimes to watch them age right before your eyes. You have my admiration for taking care of them.

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 6 years ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Thanks TnFlash for stopping by to read and comment. Bless you for caring for your wife's family. It is amazing to watch the years fly by and to witness the life cycle.

hypnodude profile image

hypnodude 6 years ago from Italy

Wonderful hub. This alone would be a good reason to follow you. It's something that I'm just beginning to experience with my mother. At the end, if luckily mental health remains good, it's a kind of karmic thing. They care for us when we were young and now it's time for us to exchange the favour. The difference is that when younger we were probably more ready to listen. :)

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 6 years ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Thanks for reading and sharing your situation, hypnodude. It is true about the karma - the full circle of life. I'll hope for your family that the mental health is never an issue. We're fortunate that both Auntie and Mom are mentally alert and on top of things, if a little forgetful, but then so am I! Thanks for following along on Hub. I look forward to reading more of your work as well. Blessings to you and yours.

Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

Oh Peg! This touched me deeply just having lost my dear mother this past January. We lived together and her memory was going...but I still miss her so! Enjoy each and every day that you have with your mother and aunt. Soon enough they will be gone.

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 6 years ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Peggy W, my deepest condolences to you on the loss of your Mother. We are never the same after we lose a family member. It was with great love that you took her into your home and cared for her. I'm so very sorry for your loss.

When I visit the Nursing Homes where Mom has stayed for rehab, my heart breaks for those parents who reside there, with no visitors, nor memories of what was. I know the time will come when she is gone . . so every day is a blessing and a gift, the present.

It was so nice to find you here on HubPages. I hope to read more of your work.

Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

Nice meeting you here also. I know that there are some better nursing homes...but never really the same as being surrounded by cherished things as well as pets and loved ones. I had promised my mother that she would never have to go to a nursing home if it was within my power, and I am happy to say that at least that promise was able to be kept. I dread the thought of someday ending up in one. Not the greatest way to spend the remaining days of one's life. Of course, sometimes there are no other options. In that case, frequent visitors help. For those with no visitors...really sad!

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 6 years ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Peggy W, Reading over this hub today I see I missed answering your nice response. I apologize for the delay.

You're so right - when there are options it is not ideal to go to a nursing home. They are lonely places even if modern and improved. I fervently hope not to end up there either. Mom still remains at home where every day is precious and dear. Louise is now 90 and doing great too. Thanks again for your comments.

FaithDream profile image

FaithDream 5 years ago from (Midwest) USA

Peg, you are amazing and blessed. I know what it is like to care for an aging parent. I spent 12 yrs caring for my mom. She passed away last summer and I would do anything to care for her again.

Bless you Peg for looking after her. She is lucky to have you and vice versa.

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 5 years ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Hello Faith, I'm so sorry to hear of your Mom's passing. We never quite get over the loss of a family member. I know how much you must miss her and wish you could care for her again. You are an amazing person for your dedication and service to her. May God bless you too. Thank you so much for your nice comments.

Sunnie Day 5 years ago

Peg what a beautiful story and so encouraging as I undertake new roles with my parents as well. You are one special lady and I am sure you were blessed just as well having such a loving relationship with your mom. Thank you so much for this inspiring hub. I also am sorry for the loss of your mom. May you find peace and joy in upcoming days. God Bless,


PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 5 years ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Hello Sunnie Day, Thank you for your lovely comment and I am very pleased to report that Mom is still here on this earth! She's about to turn 86 in June and her sister, who lives with her, will reach 91 in April. We are blessed to have them nearby and encouraged by their continued ability to manage (mostly) on their own. Mom still cooks and plays games on the computer and they have a little dog Fritz who keeps them energized. So glad you stopped in and it was nice to meet you here.

Fluffy77 profile image

Fluffy77 5 years ago from Enterprise, OR

So awesome to have close friends and family around to help out too, we have more family living here too to help us. Too bad it takes such a loss in family to pull us together, but at least we do pull together at all right.

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 5 years ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Hi Fluffy77, So nice to see you here and thanks for your thoughtful comments. We are blessed to have Mom, who is about to turn 86, and her sister Louise who just turned 91, living nearby. They are a joy to be around.

Dim Flaxenwick profile image

Dim Flaxenwick 5 years ago from Great Britain

That was absolutely beautiful. i know it´s not easy, as the elderly one becomes more childlike.

Sounds like you are managing a great, worthwhile job.

You´ll always be glad that you did,

God bless.

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 5 years ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Hello Dim, Thank you for the encouragement and kind words. These past few weeks have been really tough for her. Being so fragile, she has sustained another compression fracture on her T-10 vertebra and we're looking at another Kyphoplasty in the next few days. Amazing that medicine can repair such damage. . . We're hoping she'll sail through this - one more time - and return to her normal routine in time for her 86th birthday.

Again, thanks so much for dropping in and may God bless you as well. xxoo Peg

elnavann profile image

elnavann 5 years ago from South Africa

Thank you for a wonderful story - I associated so much with this. My mother and father are both 86 now and as you describe, the roles have gradually reversed. Luckily my sister and I share the responsibility of assisting my mother with decisions (my father has dementia)and we do not see this as a burden - we had very loving parents. But I always saw them as my "first line of defence" in life - now we are playing that role for them and our children. That made me think a bit . . .

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 5 years ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Hello elnavann, Thank you for stopping by to read this story and for sharing your situation about your mother and father. I'm always pleased to find people who care for their elders when the time comes. May God bless you and your sister as you handle this important task. You are awesome.

Glenn Stok profile image

Glenn Stok 5 years ago from Long Island, NY

Peg, This Hub is a very worthwhile story to read for people who have elderly parents or relatives.

I had the experience with my Aunt, who made it to 98. In her last years I needed to take over with handling many of her affairs. The hardest thing was helping her make decisions which she would quickly forget and, as you mentioned in your Hub, it become unerving to repeat myself reminding her that we already decided on this or that. Many times I would have to start over and each time it would come out with a different dicision on her part. But I followed along as much as I could because I wanted to do what she desired. It wasn't easy when she kept changing her desires.

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 5 years ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Hello Glenn, Thank you for sharing your caregiver experiences surrounding your Aunt. Wow, she really had a good long life! So glad she had you to help her with all those ever-changing decisions and may God bless you for the loving care and attention you gave her.

My auntie just turned 91 and she's still so sharp. But I am seeing some increased forgetfullness with both she and my Mom. Sad to see this but still we're so happy to have them nearby and for the most part, independent.

SusanDeppner profile image

SusanDeppner 8 months ago from Arkansas USA

Thanks for sharing about your mom, Peg. Our dad is 86 and, despite prostate cancer, is doing very well on his own (though my sister drives him to his appointments and to get groceries). We know it's because, being a lifetime learner, he continues to keep his mind very busy and has a positive attitude about everything. Our mom, on the other hand (our parents have been divorced for years), is now in an assisted living facility and is a true challenge. Again, my sister is the one who's close and handles her affairs. Dementia is rearing its ugly head and has been getting worse. She is reluctant to join in with social activities, read, or even watch television. We miss our fun-loving mom, the organizer and friend-maker. It's a tough time of life, tougher with some than with others. God bless the caregivers!

Lorelei Cohen profile image

Lorelei Cohen 8 months ago from Canada

Time flies by so very quickly and how things do change in the family unit as it does.

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 8 months ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Susan, Your parents' changes in life are so familiar to me. Your Dad is the lucky one to be able to manage for the most part on his own. My Mom wisely gave up her car keys when she realized her driving was no longer safe. She managed to stay at home for nearly five years after that with help from neighbors, house keepers, personal shoppers and by having a Life Alert button for safety. At the point where she could no longer remember my phone number (it was written on her memo board) or successfully dial my number, we knew it was time. There was also an incident with a grease fire that was pretty scary.

Now she lives in a skilled nursing facility where she has three hot meals a day, 24-hour nursing oversight, activities and safety when the power goes off in our neighborhood. We feel lucky that she made it to almost ninety before that had to happen. Yes, God Bless those hard-working and underpaid caregivers!

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