I am always up for a moms’ night out. A few hours of adult conversation, mommy camaraderie and an uninterrupted meal have been a lifeline to my sanity the last nine years. When we all had just had babies, we vented about feedings and nap schedules. Then came the woes of elementary school, from the hardships of homework to navigating the choppy sea of young friendships.
Lately, though, the conversations are shifting. We are still swapping stories and comparing notes but not just about our children anymore. The tide has turned, and we suddenly find ourselves talking about our parents. While we toasted birthdays and our children’s milestones year after year, we didn’t notice that the kids aren’t the only ones getting older. Our parents are aging, too, and this kind of growing older doesn’t involve a lot of celebration.
As I sat across from my friends, each of us shared a story about our parents. One is awaiting test results. The other has already experienced loss. Another is recognizing early signs of dementia. Our stories are different, but our feelings about it are the same. This is hard. This is only the beginning. And we can’t do it alone. This new stage of parenthood just arrived, and ready or not, we have to realize we are all treading these unpredictable waters together. Here are some things to keep in mind to help us stay afloat:
Recognize that no matter how old we are, a part of us will always need our parents. Children look to their Mom and Dad for help and reassurance at every stage of life. People, places and jobs have come and gone, but parents are usually the constant, providing help and reassurance along the way. Switching roles is a transition for all involved. Some parents will welcome help and others will resist, but no matter what, patience is essential.
Feel all the feels because the issues are heavy and the emotions are real. There is so much to wrestle with in this stage. Even though we understand that no one lives forever, we don’t know exactly how things will end. From longterm care choices to aiding in treatment, it takes a physical toll on the people you love the most, as this stage of life requires perseverance and strength. Emotions run high. Have the tough conversations you are scared to have. Know your parents’ wishes. Do the best you can with whatever situation life throws at you.
Lean on your support system. The only way to get through this stage is with each other. Caring for your aging parents will cause stress; it can drain your emotions and your time. Some of us may have an added stress because we are caring for parents and young children — called the sandwich effect because it is more common nowadays to have children in your 30s and 40s. Don’t do all the heavy lifting yourself. If you have siblings, team up with them. Let your husband help carry the load. Call up your girlfriends either for a venting session or take your mind off your own problems by listening to theirs. And by all means, keep those moms’ nights out a priority.
Make memories. If your parents are “young” and/or in good health, take advantage of it. Do things together. Travel together. Pick up the phone because life can change on a dime and sometimes age doesn’t even play a factor. Make all those “live for the now” cliches come true. And when its your turn to parent your parents, love them well. Be caring and patient. Make them proud one last time.