Role Reversal: Parenting a Parent During COVID-19
Before I explain any further, my intention here is not to paint my mother in a negative light, but to provide insight into our relationship and why parenting an adult during this unprecedented time has been challenging. My relationship with my mom has been a difficult one for as long as I could remember. My mom is "old school" as far as her expectations of my sisters and me - meaning we should put her needs before our own. It stems from her upbringing in India, and even though she has been in this country for many years, she is still culturally disconnected. It became even more complicated after my father passed away unexpectedly when I was eighteen. From that moment on, our family dynamic changed. Think of the movie Freaky Friday, where the main character switches roles with her mother - my situation is eerily similar, however, the roles in my case never went back to normal.
My older sister, who at the time was 23 years old, and without a choice, assumed both parental roles in our family. My sisters and I had to change and adapt to our new "normal" to move forward while we watched my mother regress. It was evident that the shock of my dad's death devastated her and that she would be incapable of being a strong matriarch for our family.
Fast forward to the present day - and life is good. My oldest sister is now a mother of two and a successful attorney in Arizona. My other sister made her mark in Philadelphia's film industry and has been a staple in it ever since. And for me, I turned out alright too and found my path to legal marketing.
Before COVID-19 swept through the country and confined us to our homes, helping to care for my mother was always tough. You can imagine that this situation has only declined further and caused more frustration. It has been a struggle to care for my mom and to interact with her daily. With those closest to her, she will often say thank you and give you a backhanded compliment in the same breath. You can imagine the difficulty when your advice and opinions are downplayed because her kids shouldn't be telling her what to do, and she should be our main priority regardless of our personal lives. On top of that, she has been more dependent emotionally, which has been taxing on my mental well-being. If you are currently taking care of a parent(s) during COVID-19, and you're having a hard time adjusting, here are a few tips to remember:
It's Okay To Be Angry
As I mentioned before, my mother has always been dependent on my sisters and me but her reliance on us has been amplified due to the mandated isolation. It's hard not to show emotion when you have to continually drop everything you're doing, and rush over to her house because she needs something. If you bottle that emotion, you will eventually have a "serenity now, serenity now" moment and explode, which is not suitable for anyone.
Do Not Feel Guilty
The guilt trip: many parents' not so secret weapon. The feeling of guilt is a powerful one, and it took a lot of work over the years to learn how to say "no" without feeling like a bad son. I would always think of my dad when I chose not to help my mom for my own sake. With every "no" I verbalized, I would then picture my father shaking his head in disappointment and questioning my commitment to my family. This feeling of guilt would always lead me to give in and go through with whatever she had asked of me. In time, I learned it was unfair and unhealthy for me to feel powerless in making my own decisions.
Come up with a schedule and stick to it. Tell your parent(s) which days and times you can get groceries, visit, etc. It's important to note that this plan can only work if you stick it. You can be flexible but not too flexible. There has to be an understanding that you have a life outside of theirs as well.
Lean On Your Support System
Asking for help was something I had to learn how to do. I never wanted my burdens to be someone else's. I have been extremely fortunate to have an understanding and supportive fiancÃ©, in addition to friends and family, who understand the situation. They may not always agree with me on how I navigate it, but they will always answer the call if I need them.
My sisters and I work collectively to ensure my mom is safe and healthy, but I'm aware that this may not be the case for everyone. It's essential to know it takes a special kind of person to care for someone who can be difficult. If you are alone or have support, remember you are doing the best you can, and that is enough. There is no timetable for when we will return to normalcy, so until then, just breathe and continue forward.