Parenting the parents

Do you ever sometimes think:  “Oh God, that’s what my Mother used to say to me and now I’m saying it!!” … TO HER!!?

Now granted, there now increasingly – what with our ever ageing population – comes a time when parents stop being parents and start being old people you’re not paid to care for. I think we’ve all come to accept that. Life is cyclical and so the very end of life mirrors what happens in the beginning: vulnerable dependent is cared and nurtured for by loving responsible independent. The pattern being: adults (who are typically parents) take care of children in the beginning and then children (typically being offspring of aforementioned individuals) take care of adults (who are now more vulnerable) in the end. The exact age at which this later phenomenon sets in typically depends on factors such as self sufficiency and mindset of the older person, which is largely determined by issues such as health and relationship status (with widowed or single parents often moving in with their children earlier in spite of no obvious health problems to ward against loneliness or to assist with childcare). Regardless of precise age at which this happens, this is generally now accepted as a common phenomenon occurring towards the later stages of the parents life. The care for them as they cared for you when you were infants stage: involving help with even basic tasks such as eating, clothing, bathing etc.

What people don’t often talk about – and what is happening increasingly thanks to phenomenons like living with your parents into your mid-twenties and thirties – is the stage that can sometimes happen beforehand what I have termed: Parenting the parent. At this stage, parents are not so incapacitated that they are unable to do basic things for themselves, this is more their rebellious, insecure mock teenager what I call seen-ager (like senior- ager) stage in which you as the child need to: offer advice (be it personal or professional), show support and guidance but also quite frankly ban them from doing harmful pursuits (excessive eating/ drinking), encourage them to exercise, socialise more (especially when they go through their seen-ager moody, silent tv watching phase) and relate to others. It’s as if they go ‘oh my children are old enough now, let’s get back to me’ and they revert to their pre-children stage of hedonistic pleasures and ill thought out adventures. And we, as the supposedly mature young adults (I still consider myself young OK?! 🙂 ) have to gently remind them that whilst it is undoubtedly a good thing to be able to have more time to focus on themselves, safe in the knowledge that we won’t burn down the house in their absence, they need to do it with the mindset of a mature seen-ager and not revert back to their teenager self.

In my case, it’s particularly odd to parent a parent before having kids of my own. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’ve had plenty of practice looking after children but I know – as millions of parents will tell me – that its not quite the same as having your own (and by your own, I completely, for the record, consider adopted children – of which I want to have a few of mine own in the not too distant future – to be also your ‘own’ kids. It was not meant as a biological reference.) and I kind of thought I’d have my own kids before I had to start parenting (the parents). I can see myself, every day teaching them something they did not previously know how to do, or guiding them in some way (like making sure they remember they are in an actual RELATIONSHIP with one another, not merely cohabiting). I find it peculiarly refreshing and amusing at the same time.

As crazy as it is, I finally feel I might be graduating from the University of Life from ‘parented’ to ‘parentee’.

And now, with the ball firmly over my side of the court, I say: ‘Let the slagging matches and seen-age tantrums begin!’ 🙂

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