As elderly parents age, adult children usually become increasingly involved in their parents’ care. A sensitive look at a challenging situation
One morning after breakfast, Yosef decided to run some errands. He took the car. Under normal circumstances, this would be unremarkable, but Yosef had cancer, and he was taking pain medication that impaired his cognitive ability. He ended up in a fender bender and was taken by ambulance to the hospital for minor injuries. Thankfully, no one else was hurt. After that, his wife refused to be in the car if he was driving, and she offered to be the designated driver.
“He was outraged,” recalls his stepdaughter, Bayla. “He insisted he was perfectly capable of driving, and refused to capitulate, even though it was downright scary to drive with him. His reflexes were so poor that he made jagged, abrupt moves while driving, and sometimes slammed on the brakes in the middle of the highway.”
Bayla’s parents fought for weeks about the car issue, with her stepfather insisting he was still competent behind the wheel, and her mother claiming the opposite. It fell to Bayla to convince her stepfather to give up driving.
“I had to play the bad guy,” says Bayla. “I had little ones at the time and I told my stepfather, very gently, that I loved him dearly but that I was terrified of his driving and and that if, chas v’shalom, anything happened while my kids were in the car, I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to forgive myself for letting him drive them. So I made a firm rule that if we were all together, only me, Mom, or my husband could drive.
“Dad was so upset, he almost started crying. I wish I knew a better way to go about it, but how are you supposed to communicate with someone who refuses to admit that he’s no longer capable of doing what he’s done so well and so masterfully for decades?”
This is a conundrum experienced by many people with aging parents, many of whom have health issues that cannot be ignored. As the aging population continues to grow — in the United States, more than 10,000 people turn 65 every day — we can only expect these questions to become more prevalent and urgent.
Many adult children already play an active role in the lives of their aging parents. According to a 2015 Pew Research Survey, 60 percent of respondents with a parent over the age of 65 have helped out with errands, home repair, or housework. But a situation could become increasingly complicated when parents ignore medical advice, and put their health in jeopardy, or, like Yosef, make decisions that can place others in danger.
What is my role in this? many adult children wonder. Is my priority keeping my parents healthy and safe? Or is my role to respect the boundaries of my parent, and take a step back?
It takes sensitivity and skill — and guidance from a rav — to know how to navigate the hurdles. And the first step is trying to understand what it feels like to be in the parent’s shoes.
(Excerpted from Family First, Issue 680)