parenting a parent

by Krystal Bick
January 29, 2018

Do you remember the first time you saw your parents cry?

I do. I was probably 6 or 7 at the time and I remember walking into my parents’ bedroom, only to find my mom tearing up about something. At the time, I didn’t know what she was crying about. And when asked today, she doesn’t really recall either, as she’s a quick to cry kind of person over something as small as an ASPCA commercial (a trait I get from her). But I do remember how it made me feel. For the first time, I realized my parents weren’t these mega superheroes I had built them up to be. Superhuman? Yes. But perfect, indestructible beings? No.

I suppose for a 6 year old, this was a heavy-handed epiphany, but in a way, it made me feel a bit relieved, perhaps. It made them more real to me in a sense — they had highs and lows, good days and bad days, and while no one ever likes seeing someone cry or experience any kind of pain or sadness (especially your parents), they’re all emotions we can relate to — because at the end of the day, we’re all human.

At this point, I’ll fast forward. To 31-year old me. I’m currently back at my childhood home in Reno. The past two weeks, which I’ve alluded to here in this post, have been a blur of hospital visits, doctor appointments, physical therapy sessions and the intermittent packing up of the house I spent the first 18 years of my life in. Why? Earlier this month, my mother had hip replacement surgery and, much like my 6-year old self, I didn’t want to see her in any pain or have to struggle with anything. So I stepped in. Because I could. Because I wanted to. Because my parents raised me to handle situations like this, for the ones we love most.

Of course, it hasn’t been easy. And I should say, on either of us, my mom or me (I have the fun task of packing up the house so she can downsize and move into a cute little apartment). But in all honesty, I think it’s been more difficult for her, as the parent, who’s so accustomed to being the one taking care of someone, that when the roles are reversed, it’s a hard adjustment.

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After I opened up about this situation in my previous post, I was blown away not just by all the sweet comments and emails wishing her a speedy recovery but also by how many of you who could relate, as it’s something that is perhaps inevitable for most people to experience at some point. You all had so many wonderful tips and anecdotal advice that I soon realized, there was no need for anyone to feel alone in this process — I, for one, felt stronger every day hearing from you guys sharing how you navigated the process for yourself — hence why I wanted to share it all here today.

Of course, every situation and family is different, but I do hope this can help many of you, as it did my mom and me.

  1. Jenn’s mother was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer last year, at which point she became the decision maker, both medically and financially, for the family. Both her and her mother, to the best of their abilities, set aside emotions, and made decisions like business partners — checking in often with each other regarding insurance coverage, treatment options and immediate next steps. She specifically set aside time to take on research herself, for doctors and facilities, so her mother could instead focus on rest and recovery.
  2. Sarah’s mother has semantic dementia, which struck her in her late 50s, making for a daily struggle of mourning her diminished quality of life and for the fact Sarah can no longer really share her own life changes with her. But Sarah also notes, “there is a real sweetness to getting to care for someone who has sacrificed so much of themselves for you” — and it moves her to volunteer with charities that support families dealing with Alzheimer’s/dementia.
  3. Dana’s father was diagnosed with cancer two years ago and while he is in remission now, she recalls how unusual it was to see her Dad not quite act like, well, Dad. Her biggest piece of advice boils down to reminding yourself of every little thing they have done for you and how any kind of help, big or small, shows them what an amazing, strong and independent person you’ve become.
  4. Kat cautioned against controlling all situations (no one ever likes feeling powerless) but to step in if you feel their safety is in jeopardy. She also mentioned setting them up with a number of social media apps that might make their lives easier.

5.  Kate’s story admittedly made me cry. (I told you I cry easily.) Kate cared for her mother after a sudden diagnosis, noting that it was just as hard for her mother as it was for her. Unfortunately, her mother died 6 weeks later, but Kate considers that time they spent together a blessing. She urges children to take this time to ask their parents/loved ones things they’ve always wondered about them, which I’ve already started doing with my mom.

6.  My good friend, Naty, also made me cry, with her story regarding her father’s cancer diagnosis. As with many parents I’m sure, her father hated the idea of anyone feeling sorry for him and he definitely didn’t like asking for help — so it was hard for him to allow his family members to step in and provide assistance. Naty noted she always made a point to listen to him when he did feel like talking about how he was feeling, to make sure he felt heard and empowered. She also made a point to do things that would make him smile, laugh and ultimately get his mind off things for a minute.

7.  Tina has cared for both of her parents, her mother most recently after a stage III breast cancer diagnosis. Thankfully, Tina’s background in healthcare aided the process, but it ultimately took a toll on her, too. After becoming her mother’s full time caregiver, she went to every radiation, every chemo treatment, every appointment — a transition she wishes she had a professional to guide and talk to her about. She urges everyone who is considering taking on a similar role for their parents, to find a professional to discuss things over with, to help provide a sounding board for what is a very emotionally draining role. Tina goes on to note though, that she considers the chance to help her mother an honor and that it changed their relationship for the better.

8.  Yaudy may not help her parents physically, but she helps support them back at home in Colombia, something she has done since she was 17 years old. Both her parents worked hard to send her to the US when she was 12 and she’s happy to have the chance to help repay the sacrifices they made for her. You guessed it, I’m crying again.

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9.  And finally, my good friend, Courtney is the original inspiration for this post, because he sent me the list I’m about to share with you here, that left me in tears after leaving the hospital one evening. His advice is as follows:

  • It’s okay to be scared, overwhelmed and unprepared. It’s not okay to stay there.
  • I can always find a way. It may not be easy or comfortable but there is always a path.
  • I don’t need to sacrifice myself for my parent. It’s okay to say no when you know it would hurt you in some form. Self-preservation benefits all parties.
  • Your parent is just as scared, confused, needy, angry etc. as you are and it’s normal. Annoying at times, but normal.
  • Spend your parents’ money if you need to. May they have the resources and foresight — if so, use it because that is what it’s there for.
  • Accept help from the most unlikely of places and curb your disappointment when others do not step up.
  • Wine is an acceptable meal alternative.
  • Let go of anything you are holding against your parents. Short of being a psychopath, your parents probably fucked you up simply by not knowing better.
  • Ice cream counts as an appropriate catch-all for most issues, problems and bribes.
  • Life will often show you the limits of your strength when you need it most. However, it never shows it to you in the package you expect.
  • You have a relationship with your parent. You and only you need to understand and accept it. At the end of this, be okay with your choices and fuck everyone else. Your parent is the only one who needs to know the whole story.

Do you guys have any stories you’d like to share regarding times when you’ve taken care of a parent or loved one? Any advice or tips you’d like to send my way?

9 thoughts on “parenting a parent

  1. WOOF. What a post, Krystal! I was in tears from start to finish. Thank you for sharing my story, and I loved reading about other people’s experiences. It makes me feel like I’m not alone in this. After my father’s diagnosis, I realized that my parents aren’t going to be around forever (which kills me). So I want to show them that I can also help take care of them…just as they take care of me. Like I mentioned, my parent’s always tell me how proud they are of me if I go out of my way to do something for them, and I always let them know it’s because of how they raised me!

    Thank you so much for writing this post!!!

    The Champagne Edit

  2. I agree with most of what Courtney said except “I don’t need to sacrifice myself for my parent. It’s okay to say no when you know it would hurt you in some form. Self-preservation benefits all parties“, because you 100% need to sacrifice yourself for your parents. They have most likely sacrificed themselves for you a million times over and it’s your responsibility to do the same when the time comes. At age 50 my parents got up and moved countries so that I could have a better future, they left their businesses, their friends and their whole lives behind to join my brother, keep our family together and give us opportunities we’d never have otherwise. When my dad passed away suddenly two years ago and my 70 year old retired mum was left by herself it was up to me, as the daughter to take care of her. We moved into the apartment above hers to be close, to help her with everyday tasks, to keep her company and make sure she never for a second feels lonely. We renovated her house for her so she has a beautiful place to live, we take her on trips and buy her groceries and in all this she STILL sacrifices HERSELF for us, she stays at home all day to recieve packages for us, she takes care our our cat when we go away (which is way too often then we should), she used her entire savings to help us buy our studio because yet again she wanted me to have a head start. No matter how much I take care of my mum it will never replace my dad and I will never make the pain go away but I do put the responsibility on myself to do it, because I love my parents more than anything, because I want to honor them, and my dad, and for all the times he brought home kinder egg surprises and pretendes to lay them at the front door when I came to greet him and at the end of the day I totally owe them this <3

  3. Thank you for sharing the “list” and while it isn’t for everyone, they were live lessons that really resonated with me. I have faith you will create your own list from this experience and use it to guide your own decisions. I am sending you love and maybe a bottle of red 😉

  4. I lost my husband in 2008 from brain cancer. I was his primary care taker up until his final days when I called in hospice. Something I wish I had done so much earlier. The same thing happened again in 2013 when my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer. I moved her into my home; she was living in an apartment because she wasn’t taking care of herself properly, among many other reasons related to family. I believe I found out about her having cancer that August of 2013 and in October of 2013, she passed. This time I did seek help from hospice early on so I could focus more on just being with her . Her death has been by far the hardest for me, the tears are flowing as I type this. Sometimes I’m out in public and a memory will pop up and I find myself bursting into tears. I didn’t have much of a relationship with my father, who died when I was in my early 20’s, so his passing hasnt really affected me at all. Sad, I know.

  5. This post is so relatable and the stories made me cry… I am in a slightly different situation than most of these stories. My brother, 23 years old who I live with, is suffering with a mental illness after being severely attacked by a group of men who he knew. After being diagnosed with PTSD and receiving psychological help, his life went on for a couple of years, but his frustration and anger over the injustice of the perpetrator soon returned. He has attempted to seek help from mental health Australia, with many failed attempts as they struggle to diagnose his condition and why he is suffering with the angry outbursts in private times. 99% of the time, he is his completey normal self and acts like nothing is wrong, which makes it’s so hard to address the problem with him.

    His personality has completely changed, the things he is saying and thinking behind closed doors is deeply concerning and he has been in trouble with the law a few times after making threats to harm others and himself. Despite this, we have been back and forth with the mental health hospital who regard him as a “non threat” and advise him to seek anger management therapy. My parents and myself are suffering deeply. My Mum regularly calls me crying in desperate pleas to know what to do as he doesn’t want to accept anger management therapy, he believes he needs to see a psychologist. I keep calm for her and hold my emotions together when talking to my parents. But sometimes I get frustrated because there is nothing I can do. I generally cry behind closed doors to stay strong for them. I have helped by attempting to talk with my brother on many failed attempts, as well as making endless phone calls to the police and mental health to explain the situation and ask for guidance which generally just leads us around in circles. But it’s taking a serious toll on me. I have begun seeing my own psychologist to help me deal with the stress. Yet I feel drained and emotionally exhausted not knowing if and when something bad will happen to him. My parents are in the same situation. It’s hard and it’s exhausting to know what to do and especially to stay strong.

  6. I love that you’re taking the idea of a lifestyle blog and starting to emphasize the word life much more. You are a great writer and are using your platform to touch on what matters. You care about your readers and you speak to their lives too. Thank you so much for putting yourself out there!

  7. We are all so much stronger than any of us know especially collectively. I teared up reading about others besides myself that have stepped up for a role reversal. And what was more touching is the lack of anger about having to do so but everyone had a labor of love and kindness no matter the situation. Krystal you have such a beautiful group of followers that are truly special and incredibly awesome 😘
    Love always,
    @withsterlingprecision (my father’s name was Sterling by the way, so it is always with his precision)

  8. This post reminds me that we are truly all in this life, together. I lost my mom two years ago to stage four bone cancer and it was the most difficult experience. Seeing a person that was always so strong and sufficient now have to rely on her family to do everything for her. It was hard for her and I tear up when I think of it. I wish I had asked more even more questions about her life because I miss her so much and just wish I knew everything. I know that at the end of her life she knew just how much her family loved her and took care of her. She deserved all the love and care during her most difficult time as she gave me all the love and care for my life. Thank you so much for writing this post and sharing that life is not always glamorous. You’re doing your readers a true service!

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