I am terrified of caring for my aging parents.
It feels like being back in the newborn era and being handed a helpless, screaming baby who is now mine to care for. Except now, it’s a formerly self-sufficient adult who is telling me they don’t need any help, thanks, and everything is fine. Rather than a blank page, no abilities, and no knowledge, we begin with history, diminishing abilities, and fading knowledge. I often want to scream to the heavens, “I don’t know how to do this well!”
It’s hard for both of us. I know it’s hard for my parents, too. There is grief on both sides, as things change, and responsibilities shift, and we have to let go of the ways things were before. Neither of us knows what we’re doing, and there is fear and loss on both sides. Even though we both knew a time would come when the kids would have to take the lead in making sure the parents were cared for, neither of us wants that time to be now.
But here’s what I want you to know, mom and dad.
I want you to know I am for you and I am listening to you.
I want to honor your wishes — and I want you to have the life you want to have. But sometimes I can’t do things the way you want. Like my toddler who wants to climb on counters, sometimes being for you means setting limits to keep you safe. And in order to keep you and those around you safe, sometimes this will mean limits you don’t like or don’t think you need. Please trust me — I am not trying to hamper you from living the life you want to live. But sometimes the hardest people to see with clarity are ourselves. I am for you and I am listening to you. But I also see things from an outside perspective and might notice things you miss sometimes. Please trust me that I will never impetuously or lightly rush into this.
I want you to know I am grieving this transition.
It’s hard. It’s unknown for both of us, and I don’t know what we’re doing either. Even in decisions where I feel certain, there is no end to my second-guessing. You are my parents, and you will never cease to be so. You will always be the ones who taught me first. And so when you say, “No, I’m fine,” I want to trust you. But you also taught me to trust myself — and so I wrestle with how to honor you and how to advocate for you when things differ from what you perceive. I am grieving lost years and things I wish were different in our past — I’m grieving the opportunities to make them different in the future. I’m grieving how hard this is for you, even as I’m grieving that I can’t make it easier.
I want you to know we’ll make it through this together.
The thing about simultaneously being the parent of young kids and beginning to care for aging parents — the sandwich generation — is that I know the middle years are the hardest. The transition years have the steepest learning curves and the most grief. Once you have a kid sleeping through the night, you will agonize far less about getting them there. But when you’re in the thick of it, man, it takes all of your mental and physical space. We’re wrestling now with safety and limits and changes — and trusting that we see you and hear you and are for you — but we’ll settle into a routine, we’ll build trust, and we’ll shift. It might be painful, in the middle years, but we’ll get there.
Neither of us wants this time to be now. But here we are. We’re in this together. And we’ll get there.