Life With Dad

by Bella Rum

Dad’s had his bath and we’re all showered and spit shined. Breakfast and coffee have been served and eaten and all dishes have been removed. Laundry and lunch loom and probably dinner before we return home. It has been a very nice visit. Dad is happy to see us when we come and happy to see C when she returns. He’s comfortable with her.

I get to be a daughter once again and not only a caregiver. Full-time caregiving for an elderly parent compromises the parent-child relationship.  There’s a constant tug-of-war for control between the child and parent, much like mothers have with their toddlers, except the roles are reversed. Each day is interspersed with negotiation, compromise, and frustration,  with the caregiver/child always judging which conflicts should be relinquished and which require battle.

I have a friend who had a full-out battle with her strong-willed mother about a wood stove. The daughter couldn’t sleep at night for worrying that her mother would die in a house fire. The battle continued till the mother relented, but the dispute took its toll on the relationship. If we’re lucky enough to have aging parents who still have their full mental capabilities, these disputes are going to happen.

The child strives to maintain a balancing act that teeters between the physical well-being of the parent and his independence and dignity. After all, the parent’s quality of life is almost always the prevailing factor in the decision to care for a parent in the home environment. But while the child/caregiver may strive for this balance, she often admits crushing defeat as  she places her head on her pillow at night.  I know I did.

Perspective becomes elusive after so many months and years roll by. While you’re trying to do the right thing, you are constantly questioning where you ranked today on that barometer that judges good children, and the cranky parent never fails to tell everyone who comes through the door that you give them cold cereal every morning for breakfast. Just as with a toddler, control is only an illusion.

So it’s wonderful to see a smile when I walk through the door now and to hear, “Hi, honey. I’m so glad you’re here.”

And I know he means it because I’m no longer the one trying to keep him in line or protect him from himself. I don’t have to tell him not to lift his walker up in the air to see if he can walk without falling; I don’t have to force him to sit upright for a while after eating.  He and C work that out, and I contribute from afar and come running in when needed.

Don’t think that I didn’t receive immeasurable benefits from living with Dad for those years. Besides learning things I didn’t know about my father and his incredible life, I learned things about myself that I never would have otherwise. I would not change the choices I made. They’ve taken their toll, and though most of my responsibilities here were relinquished months ago, I’m only now beginning to get a grip on pulling myself back to good mental and physical health. I have a huge challenge ahead of me this year, but I’m feeling more resolve about taking responsibility for my health once again.  It is far overdue.

When I started blogging, I learned early on that I’m never the only one living through a challenging situation. The human experience is shared and repeated, but perspectives on similar experiences inevitably vary. Caring for an elderly parent isn’t always pretty, and I wasn’t always the person I wanted to be.  I pretty much struggled through and tried not to be too hard on myself. For what it’s worth, this was my experience.