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Your body. Your choice. For life.


Last updated 5/17/2019 at Noon

Dear SharonAnn,

I am a baby boomer, my kids are grown and gone, and I'm watching my parents grow older. Sometimes my parents do silly things, like buying a thousand forever stamps because the price is going up. They'll save $13 over the course of 10 years of using the stamps because, well, who mails anything anymore?

Sometimes they do scary things, like sign up for a trip to volunteer in Myanmar. They hate going to the doctor, and usually don't until something is very painful. My question is this: When should I step in and help them make better decisions? I wrestle with letting them be and trying to become their manager.

Signed: Wrestling

Dear Wrestling,

There is usually a short answer and a long answer to such questions. I wrestle with this one myself. The short answer is you step in when they ask. Who makes you the boss? What makes you think that you can make better decisions for your parents than they can? Would you like for someone to make YOUR decisions?

We see a great deal of relationship and emotional stress on all parties when one generation acts like the CEO of the others. When your kids are 18, they are really legally adults and it is a good practice for your own thinking to call them young adults, not kids. A kid implies a childlike, unformed person who cannot make good decisions. Young adult implies a grown-up, able to decide for him or herself.

As our parents age, they will ask for help when they need it. Like we ourselves will. Our responsibility is to honor them, not control them. Hopefully, you are teaching your own young adults this lesson by your own actions.

I heard a story about a family comprised of granddad, parents and three young children. The granddad had trouble feeding himself without making a mess, so the parents thought it would be better if he ate in his own room. So they put him there. One day, the father accidentally tipped over his glass of water, and the daughter said to her siblings, "Is it time to put Dad in his room?"

The parents looked at each other and felt ashamed. They went in right away and brought granddad out to be a part of the family, even at meals – and cleaned up the messy table without a complaint from that time on. They realized they were teaching their children by their very actions.

When there are safety problems such as car bumps and bangs, it’s your responsibility to intervene for the protection of others. When parents cannot climb stairs, you'll help them find a single level to live in. When nutrition becomes an issue, you'll be more involved in getting them the right food.

The right time to get involved will become clear over time. Only then do you act. The most sobering thought is understanding this is all a part of the great cycle of life, and soon your parents will be gone from this world.

Another deep question to consider is when do YOU want to give up control over your life, your space, your own body? My own mother is a staunch advocate for, "My body, my choice. For life." Woe betide any of us four adult children who try to tell her and Dad what they should do with their lives.

Recently she fell and broke. Several bones, rehab and therapy trials later she is home, and my Dad, age 91, is taking care of her. One of us urged they move into a senior facility, and they will have none of it. Their choice. They are thinking clearly. It's just their physical abilities are lessening. When they are no longer able, then they’ll have to make other decisions. Right now, “Thank you God” prayers are uttered by all of us. They’re stable, content, capable and at home.

So, to whom do our parents belong? They belong to themselves. To whom do our children, adult and young, belong? They belong to themselves. To whom do you belong? You belong to yourself. Each has his or her own journey, and as we let our parents go, and our adult children grow, there is a huge, internal sign of relief. It’s the sound of freedom. It’s the feeling of satisfaction when a job is done. It’s your flight song.

May our loved ones be safe on their journeys

May they enjoy a long, healthy and happy life

May they know angels who protect and guide

May they always be richly blessed by God.”


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