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Role Reversal… A Reluctant Daughter’s Journey

By Sharon Lurtsema August 18, 2016

For most of us, our parents were always the strong ones when we were growing up.  They were the ones who helped us when we couldn’t do something on our own – it’s what parents do.  Sometimes it seemed like there was nothing they couldn’t do.  Needless to say, that’s why it’s so strange when we begin to see them “showing their age” and needing help from us instead of giving it.  It seems unnatural that they would ever begin to slow down or become any less capable or independent than they’ve always been.

Role reversal, in my case is happening gradually.  I’m just starting to realize my mother isn’t the same strong person she once was and it is hard for me.  She can’t walk much further than the mailbox without the need to stop and catch her breath.  To bend over and pick something up from the floor has become quite the chore.  I used to think she repeated things because she spoke to so many different people and she just couldn’t remember who she told what to.  It’s becoming common now for her to repeat the same story in the same day or even within a few hours.  She just doesn’t remember things like she used to.  Conversations tend to go off track when she chimes in with things that have nothing to do with what we were talking about.  Is she forgetting the subject or just finding it harder to stay focused?

At first, I’m ashamed to admit I was annoyed.  I’d roll my eyes and say things like “you just told me that yesterday.”  I would lose my patience with her for moving too slow.  I’d get flustered at having to repeatedly explain things to her about Facebook or how to use her iPhone.  I’d find myself politely pushing her aside and saying “just let me do it.”  I struggled with understanding who this person was now and where had my real mother gone.  It’s weird, I actually felt as though I were grieving the loss of my mom and resenting this “older lady” who had taken her place.  It is not easy to watch your loved ones become weak and needy.  I was definitely in denial, and maybe to a degree, I still am.

There are days when I still think I am a terrible daughter!  Why am I not being more understanding and sympathetic?  What is wrong with me?  I am clearly the worst caregiver ever!

Slowly I’m beginning to understand that she isn’t faking it, being lazy or acting “strange” for no reason.  She’s getting older and I need to accept it.  I’m realizing that I’m the one that needs to slow down.  It’s actually the most compassionate thing I can do for her.  I need to take a deep breath when I feel impatient.  I need to think about how much time she spent teaching ME to walk, to learn and to do things for myself, not to mention all of my siblings.  I need to remember all the times she was there to pick me up.  She was always there when I needed her.  It’s now my turn to do the same for her with as much love and patience as she gave to all of us.

It hasn’t taken long to discover that I’m not alone.  Much to my relief, I’m realizing the world in fact, is NOT filled with perfect adult children who take it all in stride and transition to the role of caregiver with total patience, love and understanding.  It’s actually quite natural to have feelings of loss and increased frustration.  Without my permission, I’m losing the spry, self-sufficient parent I once had.  I’m forced to newly navigate through her aging.  That’s why there are professionals for this exact part of life – because it’s inevitable.  I’m learning that it’s ok to ask for help and it’s not a sign of weakness.

If I were to give advice to others in my position, I would recommend starting with not being so hard on ourselves.  This fact of life is difficult and sad to say the least.  We really need to give ourselves a break.  It’s not necessary to condemn one’s self for being human.  I’ve begun the journey of understanding and accepting why I feel the way I do and trying not to wallow in it.  I realize I can’t fully understand what my mother must be feeling, but I’m willing to try.

This journey is real and filled with conflicted adult children just like me.  Thankfully, there are many resources and great places that can provide assistance in caring for our aging loved ones.  I’m beginning to learn what to expect and how to handle things as change occurs and my mom’s needs increase.  I’ve sought help in understanding why some things are the way they are.  This has helped me to see things from my mom’s perspective and to be more patient.

I say to myself and to others along for this ride, hang in there, be kind to yourself and stay strong.  Remember you and your feelings are not alone.  Take advantage of the tools and resources you have available and remember to ask for help when you need it.

To my mom I say … I love you.  This isn’t easy for me, but I promise I’m trying.  I’m making a point to educate myself, learn what is and is not realistic and above all, how to best help you.  I pray that I can be as gentle and understanding as you’ve always been with me.

There will be bumps in the road as our roles continue to reverse, but we’re in this journey together.

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