Principles for supporting parents

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My announcement last week, that I would be temporarily retiring to provide care for my parents, prompted a number of people to contact me, some with congratulations on my choice and some with warnings about the challenges.

The last time I had such a mix of comments was when I announced that my wife and I were having a first child.

Indeed, the parallels of uncertainty are there at both ends of the spectrum when the quality of life of another falls squarely on your shoulders.

The goal in parenting is to move a child from a state of complete dependence to a state of complete independence, likely in the time frame of about twenty years.

The goal in eldercare is to support a parent as they move from a state of complete independence to a state of partial or complete dependence, perhaps in a time frame of 20 or more years.

There are many jokes about “second childhood” as we age, but it is, indeed, a similar, albeit reversed process.

As I did when my parenting role loomed closer, I have taken up the task of reading and listening to those with much more experience than I have when it comes to eldercare.

There is no shame in admitting that the role of caring for another, young or old, is alternately complex and confusing.

People don’t come with manuals and even when books are written, they can’t possibly address the unique way each individual responds to any actions you take.

You have to build a support network through which you can access a lot of ideas until you find some that work for you.

My principles for raising my children were three qualities – competence, confidence and character.

In essence, this was teaching them to do things for themselves, reinforcing their understanding that they could take their skills and apply them in many ways and providing them with a value system with which they could choose appropriate applications of such skills.

I’m working on what my principles will be for supporting my parents.

I believe I’m going to focus on competence and confidence, providing them with the technological tools and helping them to learn new ways to do what were once simple tasks so that they have the confidence to feel independent.

Knowing them, I don’t think they’re going to be very happy if I come in to their home and treat them like children, even though, in many ways, I’ll have to use those eyes in the back of my head that I installed when I was a parent of toddlers.

Falls are the bane of the young and the elderly.

Clearly, character will not be an issue in terms of my responsibility to help develop it.

My parents are who they are and they’re not changing now.

However, I do feel a responsibility to record their character somehow, to perhaps understand better what motivated them to make the choices they did and to pass that along to their grandchildren and future generations.

The world around us might change, but the deepest human qualities that make for a rich life tend to ring true through millennia of change.

We can always learn from those who have lived before us.

Having a set of principles, whether it is in parenting or eldercare, has a way of cutting through the confusion and complexity of day-to-day living to find a specific objective to accomplish each day.  It may be a skill to teach, a task to work on, or a personal quality to develop or record for posterity.

The challenge then becomes identifying what is of the highest priority and that will be a daily decision based on what’s happening in everyone’s life.


Graham Hookey is an educator and writer


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