That’s what an adult child recently told me. That feeling is not unusual. News of a parent’s decline is often unexpected. It may come from many sources: The police call because the parent went to their usual grocery store and got lost. They call because the parent had a car accident or fell. Some adult children react with denial. It isn’t helpful for either parent or adult child. The parent’s situation will get worse if ignored. When first-responders can’t elicit help from family, they are required to report a senior at risk to authorities. Confronting authorities usually makes the adult child feel worse and complicates the family situation.
Why deny? Some adult children don’t know what to do. Some worry about making adjustments in their lives to provide caregiving. Old issues such as sibling rivalry, marital frictions, and work pressures show up and seem to rip the child’s social fabric just as they become caregivers. One of the “stickiest” situations is that of the previously poor parent-child relationship. What person from a negative childhood looks forward to becoming that parent’s caregiver? Those are a few reasons they turn away.
Why is it more helpful to face this change?
When the parent’s situation worsens, the adult child can look bad. In the case that prompted this comment, the parent is a heavy smoker, a drinker, and is on medications. What if an ash ignites the mess of papers around the easy chair as the parent falls into a pills-alcohol-induced slumber? House fire! How would the adult child feel like to get that call?
We need to become more flexible. Making changes helps us to develop mastery over our situation. No couch potato can run a mile; it takes practice. Mastery of adjustment develops our ability to make other adjustments.
What you do now will help you later. When the adult child makes changes in order to care, they show others the way to care. Children or other young people will be our caregivers one day; show them how now.
When the adult child faces the caregiving role, others come to aid. There are many services and supports available to those who ask. No one needs to go through the caregiving phase of life alone. Denial is resistance that makes others resist helping; break the negative cycle; face it.