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The reversal of roles

Linda Alessi • Updated Apr 21, 2018 at 3:00 PM

I am looking back to the many years I spent in Florida. I remember the exodus of seniors driving happily from the North, Midwest and anywhere else where ice and snow fell during the winter.

Happy trails were evident on Route 95 coming south to the land or retirement, sun and fun. Yes, it was the mothers, fathers and grandparents on their way. They stopped at South of the Border and bought T-shirts and bric-a-brac for the children at home.

How wonderful their retirement was going to be...and for the next 10-20 years, it was. When many made Florida their permanent home, the migration made many of the children left behind feel abandoned. Many lost the reliable babysitters, housesitters and most of all the proximity of loving parents nearby to be ready at a moment’s notice to help out as necessary and share their lives. It took adjustment for both the parents and the children in this new arrangement.

Most parents felt they had earned the right to live their senior years in a less-stressful environment and not have to battle the elements. Eventually, those who migrated each season became weary of the upkeep of two households and gave in to the lure of early bird dinners for a reasonable price, perpetual sunshine, dancing at the clubhouse, picnics and volleyball in the pool. At last, it was Shangri-La.

Lo and behold, the years passed and those vibrant and fun-loving seniors began to change. Some are alone, losing their spouse, and many are becoming too fragile to live alone. They need special attention to fill out forms, keep track of medications and some even with their meals and personal care. Some can no longer live independently and rely on the generosity of neighbors and friends to help. Some rely on public agencies to guide and protect them. So the time has come to return to the children.

Is it possible for this to be successful? Sometimes, the effort of the children to help is little or not at all. It is a difficult situation for most. Our senior population is living a fuller and longer life, but eventually each of us comes to a time when we need to be with people who we have loved and loved us. We all need to feel the compassion and care. As parents, our role was to nurture, protect and teach our children. Have we taught them well? I wonder.

Some of our children are no longer young themselves and face poor health, family problems or even the inability to cope with aging parents. Many are well aware of the needs of their parents and torn between the disruption of their own family by adjusting to the return of elderly parents living with them or nearby. Some are willing and able to sacrifice some of their comforts to give aid. The children realize the need to care and an obligation they may feel to help.

For myself, I look back and remember raising children and becoming impatient. Getting them to do chores and having to repeat the request several times would frustrate me. Teaching children new tasks was not always easy. We guided them in their choices, fed them, clothed and sought activities and skills that would help them to build their future. We, as parents, did the best we could with the skills we had in parenting.

The roles now are reversed. The parent will become the child in many ways and be dependent upon the children for sustenance, support and patience. Are they ready for us? Will they realize we will repeat ourselves more often than not? Our memory will sometimes fail us. We will be finicky in our taste for food. Will they be ready to take us to doctors and therapy if necessary? 

All of these issues may come to pass as our health begins to fail, and I sincerely hope and pray they will be there for us. If I remember these are some of the things we did for them as children. The time has come for them to remember.

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