Diane Cameron: Aging for us

Recently, while browsing a department store, I started listening to a mother and her daughter shopping for shoes. Both were upset.

Their conversation brought back memories: “I don’t care what you like; we don’t buy them. He continues, “No, you can’t have those shoes.” One rolls her eyes at the seller; the other is slumped in his seat.

I remember scenes like this from my teenage years, and later when I was a parent of a teenager, but now I watch a 60 year old girl doing the punishment and the 80 year old mother, annoyed and humiliated for not not being able to have the shoes she likes. I can see the girl’s pain. “The doctor said that with your cane you have to wear lace-up shoes.”

We can follow the progress of women’s lives through shoes. Little girls can’t wait to ditch baby tie shoes for big girl loafers, then out flats and heels, then cool sneakers, and so on, until a grown girl says to her mother that she can’t buy the shoes she likes.

On the surface, taking your mom shopping should be a nice outing, but being the one to say yes or no to clothing, menu, and housing selections takes adult children to places we didn’t expect to travel emotionally.

I happen to be in this store browsing while my husband is meeting with his mother’s attorney. For many years, as a precaution, he has had his power of attorney. We always imagined an emergency would be an accident or sudden illness, but we’re here now because mom can’t keep up with her bills, so today her adult son takes away her credit cards, just like he took car keys a few years ago.
We can take intellectual comfort knowing it’s “the right thing to do,” but no one is preparing us to raise our parents.

An estimated 22 million American households are caring for a parent over 65, and when I compare notes with friends, we realize we covered the same topics with our teens as we do now with our parents. We’re talking about drugs and alcohol, driving, smart money management, and yes, even sex.

In a bookstore, I go through the Parenthood section and transpose the titles to achieve this role reversal. There’s the “What to Expect” series for new moms, and “Talking So Your Teen Will Listen,” but where are “What to Expect When Your Parents Get Older” and “How to Talk So Your Mom Will Listen.” “?

In the parenting workshops, we used role play to learn how to “set clear boundaries”. We were advised to send a clear message about who the adult is. Well, who is the adult in the world of aging parents? We let our children waste their money to live the natural consequence of their choices. Should we allow our parents to do the same?

Perhaps the best we can do is take advantage of the fact that our future caregiver is standing right next to us when we tell Grandma that she can no longer drive or buy the shoes she loves. Now we have to say to our children: “One day it will be you and me, and I now give you permission for that day to take my car keys and my slippery shoes – and remind me at how painful it was.”

We may be wearing our own slip-on shoes for a few more years, but we have to walk in the moccasins of our parents and children as we negotiate this narrow passage into our 40s.

Diane Cameron is a writer from the Capital Region. [email protected]

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