As the child of an aging and ailing parent, Kelly Guest wonders how to keep the spirit of the Fourth Commandment as she cares for her mother.
“When did you get to be the parent?” my mother quipped after I arrived to take her to the doctor. Yes, she had to go. No, she could not reschedule.
It was, nonetheless, a good question. When did that happen? Not that I’m the parent. I am, however, the grown child of an elderly parent. What I want to know is: how did we get here so quickly? I remember celebrating many milestones in their lives, like 30th and 50th birthdays, promotions at work, and retirements—all of which seem not so long ago. Just as it is with my children, time flew by quickly with my parents.
Now my dad has passed, and mom’s health continues to fail her. Yet she does not wish to see any more specialists. Sometimes she forgets to take her medicines. There are days when she does not feel like eating much or doing much. It is hard to witness and just as difficult to navigate through this new relationship.
Did I overstep my boundaries by making her go to that doctor’s appointment when she did not want to go? Does calling every day to remind her to take her medicines make her not look forward to my calls? The answer to both questions is probably … most likely ... ok, definitely yes. Even if my intentions do come from a place of love and concern, I have no right.
The Fourth Commandment does not end when we move out. We are to always honor our fathers and mothers. As they age, we must care for them in their needs. However, caring is not controlling. As long as they are competent, our parents have the right to make their own decisions—even ones we do not like or agree with. We must respect their free will; after all, God does.
Therefore, do not over-analyze everything our parents do. It is not necessary to know when they went to bed or woke up, what they ate, and how many times they went to the bathroom! Feeling the need to know all about their daily habits will not only make them nervous every time we visit or call, but it will also increase our own anxiety. Do our children not give us enough concerns without adding parents to the worry list?
Instead, work together as a team to solve issues. Ask them what they want to do. After all, we have no right to tell them what they must do. Instead, share concerns and observations. Come up with pros and cons to potential solutions. Ask them what they think. For instance, inquire from them what would justify having in-home help or moving to an assistant living home. As with all relationships, communication is important.
Above all, enjoy the time you have with them. Talk about their favorite memories. Go through old photo albums together. Ask them what it is like to live 80/90 years. Glean from their wisdom and experience. Relax and watch their favorite movie with them and eat their favorite snack. Pray together. Time is precious; use it well.
God has numbered all our days. He alone is ultimately in control, and we must trust him. If I learned anything from my father’s death, it is that despite our best efforts and greatest desires, time will end for our parents, and we have no say in the matter. Moreover, we will never be ready to say good-bye.
In the meantime, my mom has good days and not-so-good days. I know she is in God’s hands and those are Good Hands to be in! So, while I still may check to see if she took her medicine today while pouring Crème de Mint on two bowls of vanilla ice cream, I’m going to sit on the couch beside her and watch An Affair to Remember.
For those of you with aging parents, how has your relationship with them changed? What advice would you give?
Copyright 2023 Kelly Guest
About the Author
Kelly Guest was blessed to be a Dominican Sister of St. Cecilia for five years. There she received the many graces she draws upon today as a wife and mother of nine children. Wishing to share with other moms encouragement on our quest to become holy through motherhood, she blogs at Nun2Nine.com and CatholicMom.com. You can also find her on Twitter and Instagram @nun2nine. Kelly's book, Saintly Moms: 25 Stories of Holiness, is due out October 1, 2021.