The Battle of the Aged

By Blake Schnitker

Parents and their children. Mothers and fathers and their ties to their daughters and sons. It’s the quintessential relationships that echo, ebb, and flow throughout the length of our lives.

Most parents try to raise their children “right”, but the results of their efforts don’t always show up until a) their children grow up and become parents, and/or b) when the parents reach the stage where they become somewhat dependent on their grown children.

The cycle of the parent/child reversal is natural and inevitable, but it doesn’t mean it’s an easy transition. And sure, there are exceptions – healthy, sharp minded, independent eighty-five year olds still pushing their fifty-five year old sons to grow up. Hey, sounds like a sitcom. Someone call CBS.

The eventual reversal of the relationship between senior parents and mature children often ignites clashes over control, competency, and independence very similar to the battles the once younger parents had with their then teenage kids.

The trouble usually begins with the difference in opinion of what an aging parent really needs help with, compared to what the parents feel they need their children involved in. And in my own case, I don’t have the paternal instincts or practiced experience from having raised my own children to fall back on when trying to support my mom’s needs. My parents raised me with qualities that apply more to a beach bum paperback writer than a caregiving grandfather.

Now, I’m not about to air any Churchill family dirty laundry, but I will say my mom and I have had more arguments in the past few years than the prior four decades. I love and respect my mom, and credit her influences in molding who I am today, which ultimately is a grown man who is very happy with who he is. That’s not an easy feat in any generation. I’m also very fortunate to have an eighty-something mom who’s still very independent, relatively healthy, and able to take care of herself. But I feel like the clock is ticking on her current lifestyle. What’s that old saying? Hope for the best, but plan for the worst, right?

I do realize living well beyond one’s retirement years isn’t an easy process, and I’ve seen the toll it has taken on my mom. The small losses of independence and freedom, the negative health and financial issues, and the passing of friends and family members are all aspects of senior adulthood grown children usually first realize through their parents. When I think about what the passage of time has cost her – a daughter, a husband, siblings, and a crap load of friends and ex-classmates – the burden is heartbreaking. Living a long life can be both a blessing and a curse.

As the last surviving adult child, I dread the possible future of having to make those diamond-hard decisions when it comes to my mom’s living arrangements and day-to-day care. I cringe when I think about the events that might lead up to her finally turning over her car keys. I don’t want to make that decision for her. Heck – I wouldn’t want my mother coming to my house and telling me I have to stop driving, or that I need to move into some sort of senior complex, or that a stranger will be coming into my house to check on me during business hours Monday through Friday, but that’s what could be on the horizon.

I try to understand the life she’s created for herself, both the good and bad of it, and I do my best to respect her life. But as she’s gotten older, there are contradictions to the way she raised me, and those create sparks that ignite heated discussions. I really want what’s best for her, and what will make her happy, but not only do we not seem to be on the same page on many topics that apply to her future, but shoot, I’m not sure we’re in the same book.

So here I am, a grown son keeping an eye on his mom, praying when the time comes I’ll prove to be the son she raised, and not some strange tyrant stealing her life.

The truth is, I think a line from “The Dark Knight” is very fitting for many adult sons and daughters of a senior parent.

You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”

Love you, Mom.

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