What the young and the old both want

He sits at the kitchen table patiently waiting for the pureed beets, pureed beans, and mashed potatoes. As he takes a bite, some juice dribbles down his chin and drops onto the bib around his neck, but he doesn’t notice. He is intently focused on getting the baby spoon to his mouth, moving the food around with his tongue, and swallowing.

Sixteen years ago, this was my son learning to feed himself. Today, it’s my dad who is re-learning how to swallow as he recovers from a stroke that tragically altered his brain (and his life!) two months ago.

As I sit there with him, encouraging him to tilt his chin as he swallows so that the food goes down the right “pipe,” I’m reminded of how my life has come full circle in caring for those most precious to me. I’m finding that the words and actions I used with my children to help them navigate the “bumps in the road” of life are coming back to me to support my dad in this new phase of his life.  I’m noticing the many parallels between caring for young children and caring for elderly parents.

 Once my son fell on some sharp rocks and got a big gash in his scalp. There was a lot of blood and the emergency room doctor tried to convince me to stay in the waiting room while they stitched him up. I refused. “I’m not a wimp!” I told the doctor, “I’m not afraid of blood. I’m going in with him.” I couldn’t bear the thought of my child facing that needle and sutures without me by his side. “Mommy’s here. It’s going to be okay,” I told him as I held his hand.

In March I was by my father’s side when he had to decide whether or not to receive a stomach tube for feeding.  A procedure that would prolong his life, but also significantly decrease the quality of it, especially if he could never swallow again. “I know this is a hard decision,” I told him. “And we’ll support you no matter what you decide. I know this must be scary. I’m right here. Everything is going to be okay.”

 Isn’t that what everyone wants? Young and old alike? For someone to hold your hand through the hard times. To know that someone is watching out for you. Everything is going to be okay.

 My father was moved to a skilled nursing facility last week…and so was my mother (because he was her caregiver before the stroke). I’m learning to be an advocate for their care just as I was an advocate for my son who was on steroids much of his infancy due to wheezing. The pediatrician said, “Get used to it. He’s going to be an asthmatic kid.” I said, “I will not get used to it” and began my research which led me to a naturopath who “cured” his wheezing.

 In the nursing home, I advocate to make sure my dad is encouraged to eat more (he’s lost so much weight!) and to make sure the call button is positioned in the same place each time they make his bed (because he’s blind and needs to feel around for it). I’m on it when I hear it took too long to assist my mom to the bathroom or that her sponge bath water was cold. I speak for them because right now they need someone looking out for them. Because I love them and want the best care for them.

 So many qualities I cultivated while raising my children–patience, understanding, listening, empathic presence–are coming in handy as I support my dad and mom in adjusting to their new lives. Gratefully, the work I’ve done to grow my consciousness and skills in order to become a better parent is helping me be a better daughter too.


Reflect on how the consciousness and skills you are building for your parenting role carry over into other areas of your life.  Are you getting better at listening to your co-workers?  or (after counting to three) do you have a sliver of curiosity and compassion for the person who cut you off in traffic?  Can you push the “pause” button when your partner says something that triggers you and step outside of your habitual reaction and choose a thoughtful response instead?  One that is more likely to lead to connection rather than further disconnection?

 You put so much effort into being the best parent you can be.  Get the most mileage out of your growing consciousness and skills by applying them to everyone everywhere!

 “Until he extends his circle of compassion to include all living things, man will not himself find peace.”  (Albert Schweitzer, Nobel Peace Prize Winner)

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