July 13, 2022

Managing the Parent-Child Role Reversal


According to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, approximately 17 percent of adult children will provide care for a parent at some point.  Typically, parents care for their children as they grow up, providing guidance, a sense of security, love, emotional support and more. Children rely on their parents to take care of them when they aren’t yet able to care for themselves. We look to our mom and dad to help us heal from everything from a scraped knee to a broken heart. But as the years go by and parents age as their children grow into adults with children of their own, our aging mothers and fathers might suddenly need us to provide the care, nurturing and security they once gave to us. 

The reversal of parent-child roles can be challenging for both parties, especially when the child is now caring for an aging or ill parent. Children may struggle with reconciling their parent’s neediness, vulnerability and dependence. Parents may feel like they’re burdening their child and balk at having to be cared for. When children have to make rules to protect the aging or ailing parent – such as taking the car keys – the parent may feel his or her independence is threatened. Even managing the medication regimen or finances can make a parent feel powerless. 

Not handled properly, the reversal of roles can lead to resentment and friction in the parent-child relationship. Here are four tips to help adult caregivers and their parent’s transition to the new roles.

Maintain your cool. As roles reverse, you will need to practice patience. Caring for your aging parent can be frustrating, especially if you’re used to your parent being your pillar of strength and if you now need to balance your work life, family and other obligations with your caregiving responsibilities. In fact, according to NAC statistics, 61 percent of family caregivers are working adults. However, no good can come from yelling at your parent, hurrying him or her along in a task or bristling while listening to a long stream of questions and concerns. 

Involve your parent in all decisions. As a caregiver, you may be responsible for helping your loved one with doctor’s appointments, household tasks, bill paying and meal planning. Get input from your parent on large and even small decisions having to do with their care and everyday tasks. No one likes to relinquish all control of their life. Respect your parent’s wishes and opinions and consider their preferences.

Medication management decisions can be a source of conflict if your parent has been used to being in control of getting their prescriptions from the pharmacy and loading their own pill sorter. Taking the time to discuss and demonstrate a new approach, such as the benefits of PersonalRX’s home delivery and pre-packaged dose packs, can introduce them to ways that make taking multiple medications safer and less time consuming. A joint decision to switch to this service allows them to maintain some control of the process while easing the stress on you, the caregiver, of having to worry about refills and prescription accuracy.

Keep the lines of communication open. At this point in the parent-child relationship, good communication is essential. It’s especially difficult for both parties to have the difficult conversations that might involve End of Life directives, wishes for final distribution of assets and Durable Power of Attorney. Consider involving other family members in challenging conversations.

Be a good listener. As parents age, their health becomes compromised, and they require caregiving from children, they may feel a range of emotions and have a variety of concerns. Let your parents talk about their fears and worries without judgement, and work together to find solutions to issues.  

Stepping into the role of caregiver for a parent can be tricky. Being patient, calm, and easing into it, knowing this is new territory for them as well as you, can make the transition into this next phase of your relationship a little bit smoother for everyone.

Remember, you don’t have to go it alone. Read our Caregiver eBook for more tips on caring for a loved one.

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