Several months ago, as I sat through a training class for caregivers, I found myself thinking I knew it all, and then quickly realizing how little I actually did know.
The caregivers shared techniques that had been successful for them in caring for a person with dementia. The instructor offered more suggestions for redirecting behavior, encouraging activity, and safety.
Throughout all of this, I realized that I used all of these techniques on my children. In fact, at nearly every suggestion, I related it to my parenting experience. That’s when I decided that I could do this – piece of cake. If I could be a parent, I could surely be a caregiver for my parents. I’d be using the same knowledge and techniques and doing the same things.
I will spend my time taking them to doctor’s appointments and social events. I will make sure they are properly fed and bathed. I am certain there will also be some difficult conversations about where they will live, driving abilities, and finances.
No sweat. All of that goes with parenting as well. I will just be parenting my parents.
Let me be the first to point out that this isn’t the first time I’ve been wrong.
Then the instructor cautioned us against treating a senior like a child.
I took a hard look at myself as a parent – what my role is in the lives of my children, and what I hope to achieve. I also looked at myself as a daughter – what my parents did for me, what their hopes were for me. In neither scenario did doctor’s appointments, food, baths, driving or money come into play.
As parents, it’s true that much of our time is filled with these activities (and many more); these are not the things that make us a parent. It is merely what we do in the hopes that our children will be good people. That is our ultimate goal – happy and healthy children who will turn into adults who are good, honorable people.
When we care for our parents, our time may be spent doing much of the same, but it isn’t parenting. The end goal is so much different. Our parents have already become good honorable people. Our job as their caregiver isn’t to point them in the right direction, let them learn lessons on their own, or to hand down discipline in the hopes we make a lasting impact.
Regardless of how old we become, or how disabled they may become, they will always and forever be our parents. They will always be the people who put up with our shenanigans and loved us when we were at our most unlikeable.
As our parents’ caregiver, our role is to keep them happy, healthy, and safe as we honor them and their wishes. Our effort is a way to thank them for the time they cared for us; to show them that they did indeed help us become good, honorable people.
So no longer do I have any notion that I will one day be parenting my parents. Instead, I will be caring for them. No, scratch that. I will be honoring them.
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