Learning how to 'parent' the parents

How the roles reverse with age

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Shree Baphna is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily.

Richard Dizon | Cavalier Daily

To me, my parents have always been invincible. They were my first superheroes, the ones who held my hand and promised me ice cream when I had to get painful vaccination shots at the pediatrician’s office. They were the ones who could chase any nightmare away. I almost never saw them cry, get sick or make any mistake at all. I didn’t even think that they would ever become “older.” They were always, always capable, and it never occurred to until very recently that they are regular humans too. 

It was ironic — at the age of 22, I was already complaining about being old in comparison to the first-years who had just started their roller coaster journey at the University. I was already cracking jokes about my bedtime being 9 p.m., an aching back and frequent usage of the phrase “kids these days,” accompanied by an exasperated head shake. Yet, at my ripe age of 22, I never stopped to think that if I was already feeling so “old,” then how in the world must my parents be feeling? 

I perhaps may not completely understand this sentiment until I am a parent myself, but I do assume that it is quite jarring to watch your children grow up, learn to fend for themselves and maybe not need you as much anymore. Of course, most of the time I simply cannot empathize with my parents when they indulge in nostalgia and talk about a time when I was diapers, but there are moments where I am briefly able to understand the sad longing they may feel for a time when they were able to tell us that “everything would be OK” and fix whatever problem we might have had at the time. As I grow older, they grow older, and there is a mutual understanding that there are some things I just have to learn how to deal with it myself.  

Along with that realization comes another realization of mortality. My parents are indeed not as physically able as they once were. My father’s hairline is receding, and there is more gray hair at his temples every time I come home from school. My mom’s skin is starting to sag under her eyes, and there are days where she just needs to take a nap in the afternoon to recharge. Both of them complain about back and knee problems, and both have to start watching their blood pressure and sugar intake now more than ever. 

Although these signs of aging are visible to the eye, it is not the scariest kind of vulnerability that my parents — my guardian angels — have started to exhibit. The scariest is the emotional vulnerability I am starting to see as they age. 

It was like experiencing a plot twist in a M. Night Shyamalan movie, although not so much horror as shock. My parents were indeed human. They had not always known that everything was going to be OK. They were plenty of times when they were scared or worried sick about the welfare of their family or about a particular child. There were times when they felt helpless and probably cried behind our backs because they couldn’t bear to let their children see them so powerless. Now that I was mature and more resilient, they began to let me see glimpses behind this curtain of invincibility that I had believed in for so long.  

I feel more like a mother then than my actual mother when I call home and instruct my parents on healthy eating habits and regular exercise. It is strange when I comfort my mother emotionally if she had a spat with my father or when my little brother is stressed out about school. Of course, I do not blame my parents for having to counsel them at all. They more than deserve a turn being taken care of.  

However, that does not abate the jolt I feel when my mother confides in me about how worried she is about my father or that she’s been having low moments of self doubt and confidence. It does does not soften the blow I feel when my father tells me about how stressed he is because of work or about my elderly grandparents, who live alone and have numerous health issues. If my parents thought sending their children away from home was hard, leaving home for my sister, and I was equally as difficult since we both knew we were the support system our parents needed.  

Although this role as an “adult” is very alien to me, I am beginning to understand how important it is for me to be as encouraging to my parents as they were — and are — for me.  If anything, I am immensely honored and confident of the fact that they can depend on me for support. After all, 20+ years of rearing children is an exhausting job.

Shree Baphna is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at life@cavalierdaily.com

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