Pretty similar to parenting our kids
Looking after our parents as they age is also a form of parenting. As we grow old, a lot of childlike traits seem to come back to us. In the circle of life, we are returning to innocence.
Parenting old people is not easy. Then again, who said parenting is easy? Whether it is our young kids or old parents, the skills required to navigate this responsibility are more or less the same.
This one is a no-brainer. If we are impatient, the battle is lost even before it begins. Children are not expected to be reasonable. They are children, for God’s sake! As we grow old, we can feel ourselves losing patience easily. Then why expect our older generation to be beacons of patience?
Try going into conversations fully expecting the older party to be impatient. Let us approach every dialogue with a barrel of patience by our side. We can control our level of patience, not their’s.
As my mom grew older, I could see a visible shift in her levels of patience and tolerance. Things got really bad when she fell ill and had to undergo surgery. Recovery was not great. During these times, it was a test of patience to get her to follow the doctor’s advice. She was used to being independent and in charge. Being dependent was a new thing and didn’t help her keep her cool.
More often than not, I forgot to take my barrel of patience into conversations involving her diet and medicines. Result — a conversation that rapidly went downhill.
The lesson in patience came from my then 11-year old daughter. She’d politely nudge me out of the way and sweet-talk her grandma into doing whatever was needed. She refused to be bothered by rudeness or anger or any tantrum. She persisted with laughter and got the job done.
As people age, they are dealing with their body parts giving up on them. The confidence of youth is fading away and being replaced with aches and pains. With creaky bones, failing eyesight, and other such inevitable signs of aging, they are frustrated with not being able to run at full capacity. Being younger, we could indulge them with a little patience.
My 11-year old taught me this lesson — to be patient with our elders.
Listen — intently
Kids have so much to say about every little thing. While exciting initially, it gets a little tiresome if they persist for a long time. So we tune out or ask them to do something else. Years later, we miss that chatter when the house grows quiet with the onset of teenage. That’s when we wish we had spent more time listening to that incessant chatter.
Cut to old age. My mom used to have things to say about the television serials she watched or some news item she had read or something from her childhood days. I used to ‘hmm, hmm’ and get on with my work.
Now, rather late, I dearly wish I had spent more time listening to her stories. What was I doing that was so much more important? I cannot recall. I miss knowing more about her. I miss hearing more of those quirky stories from her childhood or from her time at work.
Time has taught me this lesson — to listen when our elders have stories to tell.
Entertain and be available
Parents are usually at their wit’s end trying to figure out how to keep their energetic kids engaged. After a couple of games, we run out of patience and hand them a cell phone or tablet or something similar. Anything to get them out of our hair.
Then they grow into teenagers and then adults, and we beg for some time and attention from them.
We forget that we are doing the same thing to our elders. We are now adults with important responsibilities and things like that. Where is the time to entertain our parents?
I wish I had gone on walks with my mom in the evening. Or maybe taken her out shopping more often. So much I could have done. Now that she is gone, I think of all the time I could have spent with her but didn’t.
Loss has taught me this lesson — be present physically and invest time in our elders.
As folks grow old, what they want is company and attention. No different than young kids, right? As parents, we know it is our duty to give time and attention to our kids. Time has taught me that our parents and other elders too deserve the same unquestioned sense of duty.