The Caregiving Parent Trap


The Caregiving Parent Trap

As many of you know, I'm part of a speaker's bureau that provides educational sessions to employers. Typically, I present workshop to employees during their lunch hour about caregiving, stress management and coping strategies.

I received a request today to present on the following topic:

Parenting your Parents: The Second Childhood/Reversed Roles

I can barely type it without recoiling in disgust. I first began writing about my concerns about the term "parenting your parents" 20 years ago and again most recently a few years ago. (Read "These Unsung Heroes Gave Up Everything to Parent Their Parents.")

Today is the first time I've heard anyone refer to the "second childhood."

I do not believe in any way, shape or form that my parents consider this time of their life to be their "second childhood." They are tired (exhausted, really, in my mom's case). They spend too much time at the doctor or calling the doctor or asking for a referral to another doctor. My mom wobbles with a cane and can't hear, even with her hearing aides. My dad often wears burn marks on his face from his appointments with the dermatologist to rid his skin cancer.

My parents haven't run in decades, don't sit on the floor to play with their toys and don't giddily count the days to Christmas or birthdays or the last day of school.

The last years of their lives are nothing like their first years. They aren't repeating a childhood but rather slowly, sometimes tragically, ending their lives.

As I support them, I do not parent them. I nurture them, I lend a steady arm, I hope to provide a calm presence during their difficult days. I have not reversed roles with my parents but simply upped my level of help.

When my dad turned 80, I asked him how he felt. "Like crap," he said. In the last six years, it's only gotten worse. If that's a second childhood, I think I'll pass.

That's my two cents. (I did take a pass on giving the presentation.)

What do you think? Please share your thoughts and reactions in our comments section, below.

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I don't see my mom as being in her second childhood. She is in need of love, care, support, patience, interaction and someone to take care of daily responsibilities for her. But it is definitely, not a carefree fun childhood for her. She and I would both gladly have her be in a space in her life where she could function independently with minimal support, remember her life and how to care for herself, and know that the progression was not going to get better...and in fact get worse. Perhaps, the person naming the topic was trying to put a positive spin on the situation. I understand that to a degree....this journey with my mom has been powerful. There are so many times that are amazing and I am making memories I would not trade. But, the reality of her disease is that she is in need and has lost her independence. That is not positive for this woman who has cared for so many in her life and been so independent. I see this stage more as a me being a daughter to my loving mother, who has loved me my while life.


You raise more interesting nuances to this discussion and I agree with you. Even when I was 50 and my parents 80 and functioning, they still made their decisions like I was a five-year-old in the back seat of the car, and I let them. Then when everything fell apart and I lived in my mom's house to care for her, I still felt like it was \"her\" space I needed to respect.


This is a most intriguing issue. While I was caring full-time for my mom, in the last stages of dementia and life, my daughter was raising a child. Over and over we did the same things for the ones we loved, but the outcome and attitudes were so different. The things I would dismiss with the child became infuriating with my mother. I pondered this and couldn't find a real satisfying answer. My daughter suggested that raising a child feels different because you know she will mature and grow up and out of the difficult things, where an aging parent never will. I never felt like I parented my mother. Altho the actions were exactly the same, the feelings they evoked always left me puzzled and confused.


In my last blog article here, I joked a little about parenting my parents. Not using the term, I said something about not having raised them to be sneak thieves! I suppose the more proper way to put it would be they didn't raise us to be sneak thieves, so it surprised me to see mom taking decorations off the walls of their facility common rooms and putting them on her own walls. It shouldn't have surprised me. It's not out of character for her at all.\r\nWhen I feel like a parent to mom (never to dad) is when I have to be the enforcer and say no. No, she can't have over the counter meds in her room. No, she can't have a puppy in the facility. No, I'm not bringing all her stuff in. With mom, however, everything's a little different. The benzodiazapene drugs stunted her emotional development. She's not in her 2nd childhood, but a perpetual teenager-hood, rebelling against any and all authority - as she has done for the last 45 years.\r\nThat said, I have to still respect the fact that she's my mother and she's been on this earth for 88 years. I feel the same way when I hear about someone who is developmentally disabled and is \"functioning on the level of a two year old\" (or 4 or 12 or whatever) Regardless of their cognitive disability, they've been here for a much longer time and they are not a 2 year old or 4 year old. I used to work with developmentally disabled adults.


Perhaps. I wouldn’t call this my second childhood, though. I really have an aversion to “parenting my parents.” Just that term makes me walk away.