Thursday, May 17, 2012

Role Reversal


My parents have been caring for my elderly grandparents for the past five years; my maternal grandmother moved in with my parents, and my paternal grandparents moved into the same subdivision, you can almost see their house from my parents’ house.  During this time my grandparents have been declining physically and mentally, though their decline has really gained momentum during the past year.  It’s painful to watch; they were once very active and alert, now they spend most of their time watching television and usually don’t know the day, or even if it’s day or night.

As a result of this decline my parents have had to take on more and more of a parental role with their parents.  They have to schedule things for them, make sure they eat, make sure they take their medication, as well as a myriad of other things.  My grandfather had to stop driving for medical reasons, and my parents have had to enforce that, which I can tell you hasn’t been pretty. 

Meanwhile, my parents have dealt with a kind of role reversal of their own; my dad became disabled, and is now retired.  My mom went back to work full time for the first time since she was pregnant with me, so for the first time ever in their marriage my mom works outside the home, and my dad is at home.  The joke is that my mom was the stay at home parent for my sister and me, and my dad is the stay at home parent for their parents.  I suspect my dad is beginning to think that even with the paint fiascos, floods, and knocked out teeth, my sister and I were easier. 

My dad has become the person primarily responsible for getting my grandparents to and from their various appointments, taking them to the grocery store, and taking care of most of their needs.  My grandfather hasn’t been especially pleased with this situation; he liked it better when my mom was the person taking him to taking doctor’s appointments and other places.  He is very frustrated at not being able to do all that he once was, and has begun to take his frustration out on my dad. 

It started off with minor things; complaining about the times of appointments, that my dad didn’t do things the way my mom did, etc, and has gradually escalated into verbal abuse.  My dad isn’t the type to complain about the way someone treats him; he’d never allow anyone to treat my mom, my sister, or me that way, but takes it when it’s directed at him. 

My grandparents are starting to do things to endanger themselves; they don’t always take their medicine properly, largely because they have no concept of time, they don’t eat unless there’s someone there to sit with them and watch to make sure they do actually eat, and they seem to want to live solely on ice cream and fast food, they usually won’t eat anything else, regardless of what it is or who makes it, and they’re starting to do things like forgetting to turn off the coffeemaker. 

The culmination of this dangerous behavior came over the weekend; my parents drove up to have lunch with my husband and me.  It had been months since they’d been to our house, which is about an hour and a half away from them, and they decided to take an afternoon to come visit.  They checked on my grandparents before they left and made sure they had everything they needed.  They also had their cell phones with them, in case anything happened and my grandparents needed to call them. 

My grandfather decided he wasn’t happy with the lunch my parents left for them, and that he would walk the half mile to the nearest fast food restaurant to get something else, in the pouring down rain.  The walk involved crossing the highway and walking up a steep hill.  He fell twice on the way, and once in the restaurant, where they called 911.  He refused medical treatment, and ended up getting a ride back home.  He didn’t tell my parents about any of this until Tuesday afternoon when he decided he might need to have his arm checked out.  

My dad took him to the doctor, and fortunately he’s fine.  He said some horrible, horrible things to my dad, though, which made him feel really bad.  My dad was very upset about my grandfather potentially getting seriously hurt and waiting so long to tell anyone what had happened. 

This incident has made everyone realize that it’s time to consider some other options for my grandparents’ care, as it is simply impossible for my parents to be with them 24 hours a day, and it’s looking more and more like that’s what they need. 

In yet another role reversal, I took on the role of comforter to my dad yesterday when I found out about all of this.  He partially blames himself, and is having a hard time dealing with the fact that his parents now need more care than he and my mom are able to provide.  My dad and I had a really long phone conversation, which consisted largely of me trying to make my dad feel better, and telling him that it’s not his fault.  I couldn’t help thinking of all the times when the conversations were reversed, and it was my dad assuring me that I’d done my best or wasn’t to blame in a situation, or even that sometimes life is really hard, but it does get better.  It was odd for the roles to be reversed.

I don’t know if the sort of role reversals between children and parents that my parents and grandparents are going through are normal.  You’d think it might be a little easier if it were ultimately supposed to happen.  On the one hand I watch this happening with my grandparents and wonder if in 20 years we’ll be dealing with the same issues with my parents, but on the other hand I think that will never happen; they’re my parents, they have the answers. 






11 comments:

  1. my siblings and i have been going through some of this with our mother, who passed away last summer and now somewhat with my dad--it is needless to say extremely hard and takes a lot of loving care and patience--good luck and blessings

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  2. Hubs and I have been there with our parents and no doubt in time our daughter will have to deal with us. I hope we are proactive and get ourselves into a safe situation on our own before she needs to step in. Take notes...

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    1. That's a good idea to take notes. I'm hoping my parents will be proactive before they get to that point, but I guess you never know.

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  3. I can so relate to this. I help my elderly folks, who moved into an ALF two years ago. I write a lot about this on my blog...I have a category called The Greatest Generation. It is heart-wrenching to watch parents decline, and you are right, roles reverse. My folks are 89 and 91, and every year, there is more to do. I want to honor my folks and love them, but emotionally, it's so difficult. I will say a prayer for your parents and grandparents. It's only by the grace of God that we help love our aging parents as they deserve to be loved.

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    1. Thank you. I think I'm going to send my parents the link for your blog; it might be good for them to read about someone else going through the same thing. Your parents and my grandparents are from an amazing generation.

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  4. My heart goes out to you, Danielle. My mother started her decline when my son was born almost six years ago. So for almost five years, I watched my son grow and my mother decline. As I was trying to help my son no longer wear diapers, I was having to force my mother to wear them. As I was teaching my son to feed himself, I was having to feed my mother. My son was learning to speak, my mother was losing hers. It was a very interesting journey. But I didn't do it alone. My mom stayed in her house, and my three sisters and I rotated living with her. So she was never alone. But I know that's not feasible for all families. Sometimes you might have to get outside help. But the important thing is to love them with all your heart as if they were newborn babes. :)

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    1. That had to be hard to watch your son grow and your mother digress. I like the advice about loving them like babies, thank you.

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  5. I am so sorry for you all. This particularly touched me because last January 2011, hubby quit his job to move closer to his parents; they went into assisted living and we moved into one of their houses they owned, one that he would inherit eventually. It was a nightmare in so many different ways, won't bore you with it all. It is hard when parents age; it is especially hard when parents age and they don't make preparations for their final days or final season of needing help in the house, etc. What I learned from it all was not to do the same thing for our son; I don't want him to go through the hassles we did so I'm doing a lot of preplanning, etc. (both his mom/dad died within a month of each other at the end of 2011; married 64 years, he was 88/she 85).

    Unfortunately, I think in the case of your grandparents it is coming time for them to go into assisted living; I'm sure it won't be welcomed but for their safety, I think it is probably the best thing. Now convincing them of that can be a challenge indeed.

    I think your parents have done the best they can with care. Sometimes it just gets to the point to turn it over to people who are familiar with caring for the elderly.

    wishing everyone good luck with it all to get it all sorted out

    betty

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    1. Your in-laws sound a lot like my grandparents; they had thier 62nd anniversay in February. I think my mom has finally come to realize that they do need more care than they're able to get at home. Thank you for the good luck wishes.

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  6. I think the role reversal is normal. You're fortunate that you have good parents (at least it sounds like you do!). Parents are supposed to eventually realize that their children are no longer children but adults much like they are. I see it as a compliment that your dad was able to lean on you. I wish I could be that lucky.

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