If you found parenting a child to be the challenge of a lifetime—which it is, really—wait till you have to play parent to your parent. No school, no book, no social group ever prepares you for it.
Perhaps that’s why, over lunches or dinners, my friends and I inevitably end up talking more and more about it. We seem to bond over it, sharing surprises we were never prepared for, trading experiences we were sometimes too timid and shocked to admit, and pouring out our happiness, frustrations and despair we simply find hard to deal with alone.
We’re called the “sandwich generation”—sandwiched between our children who are grown-up but whom we still continue to rear, and our parents who are in their twilight years and are beginning to act more juvenile and pose even greater challenges to us than do our children.
It’s not only a dual responsibility; it’s a double whammy.
“I never thought I’d see the day when I’d be buying diapers for my daddy,” said a friend. “Nothing ever prepares you for that feeling of seeing a once-feared man looking helpless. It’s not only sadness you feel. It’s hard to describe.”
“Helpless yet in denial,” said another. “They’re the last to admit they’re no longer fit to do what they used to do, like driving or running the household. They can’t admit that to themselves, much less to you.”
A friend recalled how the electric bill in her parents’ home had been left unpaid because her mom, who refused to relinquish the chore, couldn’t remember where she kept the billing, but was too proud to admit the lapse.
When we wouldn’t let her, I said, my mommy took the taxi all the way to Bulacan, from Parañaque, insisting she could do it with only the help, no matter that she could blow P3,000 in half a day doing it.
“My Mom, making tampo with my Dad, decided to run away from the house and took the bus—at 11 in the evening—to my house [in Quezon City], from Zambales,” said another friend.
“My Dad,” said another friend, “after a fight with Mommy, walked out of the house obviously in a fit, and went missing the whole day. We would find out later that he took a tricycle, in Bulacan where they were living then, and took the bus to Sucat, got off in Sucat and walked the whole length to the entrance of our subdivision so he could stay with me in the house. That was for two days, until my mommy picked him up, and he went back to her with not even a whimper.”
How ironic that, I said, our kids, thank God, never ran away from home, yet our parents, in their old age, do.
“It’s because,” a friend said, “their catfights with each other get worse and worse. And it’s about little, insignificant things. Like over dinner, Dad would say something about the food, and Mom, who’d feel slighted by a very little thing, would stand up from the dinner table and lock herself up in the room, not wanting to talk to anyone.”
“So weird,” another friend said. “It’s as if, having been through life together, through thick and thin, now they can’t stand each other.”
Is this what they call second childhood, I said. Catfights in their second childhood?
“I even believe that my Dad is feigning senility to escape the nagging of my Mom,” said a friend, who was serious, by the way.
Yet, we all agreed, that amid all that wrangling, one’s Mom and Dad can never be torn apart. I have a friend who, when her Dad was confined in the hospital, her Mom insisted on being confined as well, occupying the bed next to his.
Parents who are in their 80s or even 90s are a paradox a son or daughter can never fully figure out. Their traits—good and bad—seem to become more pronounced as they get older. For instance, where a Mom used to be strict with the help, she’d become even stricter, even cruel and paranoid in dealing with the househelp.
“Our caregivers seem to be going through a revolving door,” said a friend. “My Mom fires one almost every week since she can’t get along with them. She gets suspicious of them—that they don’t treat my Dad good enough. It’s my Dad who needs the caregiver.”
Our parents, indeed, get suspicious of the help to the point of paranoia, like they fear the help is out to steal from them.
While confined in the hospital, a mom of a friend kept her wallet—no matter that it didn’t have considerable cash—stashed under her hospital pillow, afraid that it would be stolen.
Their insecurity about the future—no matter that it’s only now a fraction of time—gets heightened, particularly a fear of poverty, so that it behooves on us to make them feel secure, if not rational about it. And that’s a most challenging task.
“Don’t you notice how it’s always the daughters, and, okay, the gay sons,” said my gay friend, “who end up looking after their folks?”
Nothing wrong with that, we said, because it seems daughters are more attentive, sensitive to the needs of old folks—and have the higher EQ (emotional quotient) needed to deal with their quirks and the nuances of aging. I know, that’s open to debate, but I’m speaking as a daughter.
Dealing with your parents’ medical or health issues is one thing; dealing with their psychological and emotional needs—their mental/emotional state—is another. And you don’t know which one is more manageable. Neither, I guess.
You face your parents’ twilight years with courage—you try—and unconditional love for them. As a parent, you also give your child unconditional love—while trying to raise him/her and form his/her character.
There lies the difference—you can still mold your child’s character or, at least, have a say on it. In the case of your parents, you can’t. There’s no teaching them, no longer.
You just try to meet each day with a prayer—and a sense of humor.