Not the same…

as caring for a child.

When I was considering taking my parents into my home, my brother grilled me about whether or not I knew what I was getting into. He and his wife had been caring for them for a couple of months, and it was taking a toll on them (particularly his wife) because of how depressed and often cantankerous they were. I felt as if he was saying I was not capable of doing it, like he was telling me that I hadn’t thought it through. Okay, I hadn’t, really.

I thought that I would just handle it like I handled having a child, figure things out as I went along. I did make plans and thought through the logistics of having handicapped people in the house. I thought through hand-rails and toilet seats. I thought through having clear pathways, making healthy meals, traveling to doctors’ appointments.

I didn’t have a way to think about what a psychological and physical toll it would take on my mind and body. Yes, I bolstered myself up by thinking of the positives of having mom and dad here: I could get to know my parents a little better; my adult children would see a good example of responsibility; the kids and their grandparents could have a stronger bond; I would have a purpose etc. I also felt that having my parents here would make them far happier than a nursing home or assisted living place would (as it turns out, assisted living is out of the question) and it would ease their transition from living independently to having care. Oh, and they could still have their cats (not all 8, but we did take in 5).

I thought it would be difficult in the same way having a child is when you have your first one – it takes time to adjust, but then you get into a routine and it’s easier. It’s not.

When you have a baby, you have the expectation and the joy of knowing and watching them grow. They grow more and more capable as the months go on (assuming they are healthy). In general, you are young and have the energy to care for them. Then there are the people you meet who also have children. You bring your children together to play with one another, or you bring your baby to meetings with other mothers, and a shared experience binds you together. Shared problems, shared joy, makes the problems less worrisome and the joys multiply.

It’s not the same with elderly parents. The expectation, the reality, is that they will become more dependent and less capable as time goes on. Watching this happen is a continual grief process. Dealing with this process creates the need for more physical energy, more psychological fortitude, at an age when you are no longer as young and agile… and you’re seeing the future in your parents’ situation. Exhaustion, depression, anxiety about your own future – all combine and weigh you down.

Add to this the fact that, unlike with small children, parents are not portable. You need to go to the store? You have a doctor’s appointment? You’d like to have lunch with another person? If your parents are in the condition mine are, it takes planning. It takes outside caregivers, because taking them with you would require getting them out the door (oxygen, walkers, extra Depends) and down the steps and in the car. These are major operations that cause them pain and wear them out.

There are no “play groups”, either. Finding support groups is not easy, because we are all so busy and stressed out that no one can come… or find one another…

Not the same. My brother was right to grill me. I don’t know if I would have made a different decision knowing what I know now. Perhaps. Perhaps not. Now is not the time to be entertaining a what-if, that much I know.

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