There are so many posts that talk about the role reversal of parenting your parents. It makes me think caregivers are so overwhelmed by it all that they haven’t even stopped to think about the words that are coming out of their mouths.

Come on parents, is there really anything in common between parenting and eldercare?

Parenting is about helping your kids discover the world and make it their own.

Eldercare is about trying to soften the blow as the world shrinks for someone. The list of things they can do gets shorter and shorter, so more and more of that falls on your shoulders.

Children are delighted to discover the world. The elderly are bitter that it’s being taken away from them.

Children earn greater and greater responsibilities and independence. The elderly have it taken away.

It’s normal for parents to tell their kids what to do and explain the world to them. The elderly have their own options that need to be respected, even as their mental facilities may fail them.

So many elderly people become prisoners in their own failing bodies. Or their bodies remain strong as their minds fail.

Taking care of elderly family members is much less of a choice than having a child. Sure, not all pregnancies are planned, but there are generally a series of choices for people. Once you’re born, the whole world expects you to care for your parents when they inevitably become ill or elderly.

Kids are in diapers for the very beginning. Your parents may be in diapers for exponentially longer.

Do I even need to point out that there are schools for children provided free for all that allow parents to work for 12+ years, while free day programs for the elderly are few and far between? That healthy kids go to doctors, sure, but nowhere near as often as two elderly parents who have multiple chronic conditions.

I won’t pretend that kids come into the world a blank slate (let’s leave that to the philosophers), but we all find ourselves providing eldercare to people we have emotional baggage from. The world is full of mediocre parents and people who’ve made poor decisions with their finances and their health. And those mistakes fall on the children who have been raised by them.

Raising a healthy child and taking care of elderly parents are two things in life that are both incredibly difficult and incredibly rewarding. But they have very little in common beyond the surface. Anyone who is nodding along with the idea that they’re the same sort of thing isn’t thinking hard enough to ever understand the issue — and we can’t improve a situation if we don’t understand it.

J.N.G.

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