When we were little, we looked at our parents as the center of our world. They were superheroes, they could do ANYTHING. When parents look at a little one with an affirming smile or eye glance the child knows all is well; and when a parent looks with annoyance or indifference the world can crumble before us. The power parents hold is a great!
As a young person, if I did not obey my mother, she would often say, “I am not happy with you.” I remember thinking that this might be the worst thing I had ever experienced; ”My mother is unhappy with me!” Now this thought makes me smile, as she has been unhappy with me many times since then. However, in the times she was happy with me, life was the best. In the times she was disappointed, everything felt awry. As I reflect on this now, I think about the amazing beauty God has created in the structure of parents and their children. The beauty of a baby bouncing in delight due to her parents finding pleasure in her. A small boy delighting in the safety of his father after having time to connect with him. These simple pleasures bring indescribable joy.
As we get older, we slowly break away and become more and more independent. When I had my first babies (twins), I remember thinking, “Wow, each day they will become more and more independent.” They where not even a day old at that time. Now as my oldest are 10 years old, they’re indeed independent. This will continue throughout their lifetime, until at some point the tables will turn. Rather than me making the decisions for them and guiding them and caring for their practical needs, they will begin to slowly do this for me.
It was both a slow and jolting reality, when I realized this must take place with my parents—the reality that they were now the child and, in a sense, I was the adult. I was the one with power, the one holding the responsibility of doing what is right for them, and also somehow trying to uphold honor and respect for them and their opinions as they are my parents. How does that work??!!
How do we uphold and honor our parents’ position, while also providing for their needs as their bodies and/or minds begin to decline?
As the grief specialist, I view this as a letting go and also a taking up process. Letting go of the thought that they will provide for me, along with all the disappointment of this, and taking up the reality that they must now be cared for. In this, I will note that also includes letting go of what I hoped they would provide for me that they never were able to provide. It is a multi-layer situation.
Some of our experiences with aging parents are slow and steady; some are fast and swift as mine was. Every experience is unique and specific to each family and the attachments and individuals involved.
What does this look like, especially living overseas? How can we honor our fathers and mothers (Exodus 20:12)? Do we need to move back home? Do we need to call more? Can we support from afar?
What if our parents do not recognize their need for help? What if they feel they can still climb on the roof even at 85 years old? There are so many challenges when parents age. Much of how this goes depends on their emotional, mental, and spiritual health, as well as ours.
Helpful questions to ask:
1. What do my parents say they need?
— Safety: house set up, transportation situations, health concerns
—Food: how do they eat?
—Finances: how do they manage this, and is this working?
—Who do they confide in?
—Who supports them?
—Who encourages them?
—What gives my parent(s) purpose, meaning and the will to go on?
2. What do I and (we as a family) think they need?
3. What am I concerned about?
4. What am I afraid of?
5. What do I avoid with them?
6. What do they want for themselves?
7. What do I want for them?
8. What do I want for me and my family (immediate) as my parents age?
9. How do I honor other family members in this process?
—How can I respect my siblings both by giving them space to step up and by helping lift the heavy places?
10. What am I losing as my parents get older and are less able to be there for me? (What are my grief points?)
—What do I wish they did for me and long for that will likely never happen?
When I think back on my parents’ decline and deaths, it was a fast process. For many it is a slow decline. In all scenarios losses are different, based on so many factors. Begin to consider what these factors are for you. In this changing process, I encourage you to welcome the love and the freedom of Jesus for all of you. This is not easy. We were not designed to die, and yet I firmly believe God does redeem even in the most painful places.
Do you have aging parents? The path may still be difficult, we can’t deny that. But what if instead of feeling torn, alone, and overwhelmed, for the next 12 months you felt understood, connected, and able to hear God say, “Well done, good and faithful child to your parents.” You can. Join the Aging Parents Cohort today … registration closes August 31st.