There comes a point in every person’s life where the role of child is drastically redefined and the relationship with our parents or caretakers takes a turn. For some this change can happen so gradually it’s hardly noticed, while for others, there is a defining moment or event that makes everything different. But how do we cope with the mental stress and power struggles that are sure to ensue? These are the questions I’m battling at the moment and I know I’m not alone in fighting this battle.
As a child I always looked to my parents as all-knowing superheroes. While my parents are still my biggest heroes and role models, there was a point as I reached adulthood where I had to come to terms with the fact that my parents weren’t perfect and they were just people like myself who had lived and learned as they went along, making choices that seemed right in the moment but maybe in hindsight hadn’t been the best. Just like everyone else they had regrets and made mistakes because they were humans without a blueprint for how to do everything correctly. The most important thing is that no matter what, they loved me as hard as they could and did everything to keep me healthy, happy and safe. They also learned from their mistakes and did their best to ensure I learned from them as well and was afforded a better life than they were given, and for that reason they are my heroes and lifesavers.
Now that we are all older, several circumstances have changed that are causing me a great deal of grief. The first being that I always wanted to be able to give my parents the care-free life of retirement they deserved in return for the loving and supportive upbringing they provided me. At 33 years old, my life is not where I always planned it to be and financially I am not near stable enough to help them in times of emergency. That troubles me to no end. I would do anything to help my parents, but you have to be able to help yourself first. Following this career change I am at a point of rebuilding my savings and career and basically back to living paycheck-to-paycheck which is not a spot I like to be in. My parents would never ask for my help and they certainly aren’t now, but when you have seen your parents work back-breaking jobs your entire life, sometimes 2 at a time just to make ends meet, you just want them to be able to kick back and relax in the second half of their life.
Another struggle that is plaguing me is the power dynamic that has shifted within our relationship. Just as I had to realize my parents weren’t perfect superheroes, they have to accept that while I will always be their child, I am now a grown adult who sometimes might know more about the world than themselves. My parents weren’t people who stayed up-to-date with technological advances so when it comes to a lot of day-to-day normalcies, they insist on doing things the most backward and outdated way. I guess that’s fine and none of my business as long as it makes them happy, but I can’t see the reasoning behind wasting entire days of your life paying bills in person when you could pay them all in minutes online. I would rather they spend their free time doing something enjoyable, and on a more personal note, I am looking toward the future and thinking about what a pain in the ass it is going to be when and if I ever have to handle their finances.
That brings me to the final point in this headache. I am in a somewhat unfortunate position in all this because I am an only child. There are no brothers and sisters to bear the weight of this responsibility or to help out with finances. I have no one to back me up or try to reason with them when they’re being stubborn and god forbid when someone gets sick or worse, all of those decisions and care-taking will fall on me alone. This is what causes me the most pain and anxiety because it’s an inevitable reality that I have come to terms with but my parents aren’t ready to accept. No one, myself included, wants to admit they’re getting older or be made to feel “useless,” “helpless,” or a burden in any capacity. But at some point you have to admit to yourself that life will play out and you must be prepared. Instead of turning over some things to me now while everyone is healthy and mentally together, they fight me tooth and nail and insist on continuing to live in a way that isn’t the most conducive to an easier future for any of us. Even small things that would make my life easier when that time comes, like signing them up for online bill pay and having a hand in their finances or creating a reasonable budget that they actually adhere to is met with a wall of resistance that frustrates me to no end. And I am not innocent here. I am a very straightforward person with almost zero patience and do not handle the situation with the most tact and understanding so in my frustrations I end up hurting people’s feelings when all I want to do is help. It’s exhausting.
I know I’m not the first person to have these issues arise on the path of life, and if you’re fighting the same battle, know you’re not alone. One day we all will be in a position where we have to accept that we’re older and maybe not wiser and hopefully we will all have people who love us enough to want to take care of us. As a single woman with no plans for children or marriage again, I do often worry about who will play that role for me in my later years, but that’s an article for a different day. Take care of those you love and who love you, give them grace and patience and understanding where it’s needed and call your therapist for guidance. That’s the only advice I have and am currently accepting any other sage wisdom from those who have faced similar situations.