Parenting 360 – Take 2

In your Second Middle Age you may need to ‘Parent-up’ – taking a role in care of both your own kids and your parents.  This is what Parenting 360 is all about.

There is a truism that everyone experiences special needs at some point in life.  For the truly fortunate, this comes with advanced age, and with the support of one’s own adult children or other loved ones.  Many of us may experience special needs through our own children and/or loved ones.

As the primary care-giver for an adult son with special needs, I have had the opportunity to learn over the last 25+ years that life can be very rich in love and in special experiences, so long as we live in reality and not in our dreams.* In Second Middle Age this reality only becomes more prevalent and more intense as we add our own mother and/or father to the mix.

Parenting-up may include supporting a healthy diet; basic – yes, important – also yes.

When our children were young – with or without special needs, for the most part we had the luxury of not worrying about the day to day lives of our parents.  Now as we ourselves enter our Second Middle Age, in many cases our special needs children need us now more than ever, with less or a roadmap to successful parenting.*  If we are lucky, we find ourselves playing the role of parent to our own mothers and fathers.

As hard as it may be to fight the good fight every day for your special needs child as he or she navigates early adulthood and beyond, it is a fundamentally different challenge to address the evolving needs of your aging parent(s).

In other words, at the same time that you may be struggling with how to support your child (or children) to gain greater independence, you come to terms with the reality that your mother and/or father is no longer able to live independently.

Generally speaking, no one wants to usurp the autonomy or authority of their Mom or Dad.  It does not feel right or good.  It is also generally an unwelcome intrusion on your parent(s), who may not recognize or accept diminishing capacity to manage day to day challenges of life.  

There are a number of ways to provide needed support, depending on the circumstances, and the important thing is to lean in and not to assume that everything is ok, just because your mom or dad says so.

Time is not on your side.  You can take the approach of waiting for an ‘action forcing event’ like a fall at home or an illness requiring hospitalization.  In my experience, this is a terrifying option and one I can not recommend.  The sad reality is that a parent who insists on living without assistance for too long will ultimately lose more of the independence that he or she was desperate to keep.

A better alternative is the truth, stated through repeated, gentle discussion, to the effect that you love your parent and that you seek to preserve the most meaningful forms of independence for as long as possible, in a safe and secure environment. 

One of the hardest, and yet most important things you may ever do, is simply to recognize at a certain point it is time to ‘take the wheel.’

The bottom line:   Parenting 360 is both a challenge and an opportunity.  If you get the opportunity to parent-up, that means that one or more of your parents is still in this world and that is a good thing.

* We are accustomed to our children needing our help; in some cases in fact we run the risk of becoming an obstacle to progress, doing too much and expecting too little.  At other times we withdraw support too soon or we may rely at our own peril on medical/other experts who in fact have no idea what they are doing.

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