When the Child Becomes the Parent

When the Child Becomes the Parent


There’s a difference between being there for an older mom or dad, and nominating yourself to be their babysitter.

When the Child Becomes the Parent123RF Photo

My dear Singularians, once again I’ve come across a letter that requires all that these swollen fingers can clack. A common query advice duennas get can be summed up with “GET MY MOTHER OFF MY CASE” — when the questioner is 37. But on occasion, we get the opposite: the adult who has mastered the art of “swaddling” their parent and calls it “caring.” 

Unlike the truly helpful adult child who has boundaries yet “gets” what an aging parent truly needs, the “swaddler” is a suffocater who, whether out of intense fear, anger, or loneliness, can’t seem to cut loose from the parent – because of their own need for the connection. Let’s take a look.


Dear Marnie: I keep running into a problem and maybe you can help. My mother is 82, has been a widow for 24 years, and has never driven a car (not that she would now).

I’m the “baby” of the bunch, the last of six children and have never married. We live together and I consider myself to be her caretaker. She’s active for her age and gets invitations to everyone’s events. The real issue is when she gets an invitation, it often doesn’t include me and the host doesn’t attempt to arrange transportation to get her to and from the event.

The latest was an invitation to a wedding of the grandson of one of her old friends. I know this boy’s parents are highly opposed to this wedding and since there was no “and guest” anywhere on the wedding invitation, it’s my opinion they simply want a gift. Honestly, if they wanted Mom there, they would have included someone else on the invitation, or called to arrange her transportation since they know she doesn’t drive.

If I dropped her off there, I’d feel like I was abandoning her, and worry that no one would look after her in case there was a problem. Although she is more physically fit than I am, and continues to mow our ½ acre lawn weekly and plant new flower beds, she is elderly and something could happen.  

My question: What do I do about all these invitations that do not include a plus one? Mom does prefer to have me along to keep track of her purse or camera. Do I show up where I am not invited? Do I drop Mom off and hope for the best? They all know her age. And that’s why I think many of these people simply want a gift. Am I terrible to feel this way? – Cat, a Concerned Daughter in California

MARNIE SAYS: No, Angel. You’re not terrible, you’re just way too old to play Mary Poppins, and way too young to have the social role of “the daughter.” While your concern is admirable, when an aging advice duenna has a problem telling who is doing the “taking care of whom,” never mind “when and where,” I have difficulty getting to why?

Getting It: Your Personal Strategy:

 First, your anger toward the wedding party that didn’t add “and daughter” doesn’t add up.

* The Real Problem: Forget invites – and “ands.” It’s you darling. You adore your mommy. Friends adore your mommy. Everyone adores your mommy. Sweetie, it’s lovely you care, but your level of perspiration over a lady who could join the Olympic Mowing Team suggests there are deeper issues. Forgive my bluntness, but as the “baby” (your words, luv) it sounds like some of you may still be stuck in your Potty Pull Ups. Here’s why. She’s healthy. She’s wise. She’s a hoot. Her 82 is the new 52 which is why she gets to hear the Foo Fighters’ rendition of “Feelings” while you sit at home fretting she’ll have too much fun for a woman her age.

* Forgive me, but the fear she may be “losing it” may come from a hover-daughter who is obsessed with counting her pills and her carbs during the celebration.  

* Action: The simple answer to your query is: Drive her there. Pick her up. Leave your number with the host. Boom. Done. Go out with friends: yours.

ADD ON …. This letter does bring up an excellent point. To all my readers: This extraordinary octogenarian is fortunately healthy and hale. Too often, we forget about those who aren’t. In the matter of invites, let’s keep the elderly in the loop, even if it takes that extra effort – or an extra place setting for a needed care-giver at dinner. 

Copyright © Marnie Macauley / 2017 Singular Communications, LLC

Marnie MacauleyAdvice guru Marnie Winston-Macauley — therapist, author, speaker — has been a radio, TV, and syndicated advice columnist and counselor for over 20 years. Witty, wise and totally irreverent with a self-professed loathing for psychobabble, she’s written over 20 books and calendars, along with  hundreds of relationship columns and features for prominent publications.  She has her MS degree from the Columbia University School of Social Work.  In media, her work has garnered her Emmy and Writer’s Guild Best Writing nominations. She is widowed and now living single. For personal advice, you can also find Marnie Macauley on Liveperson.com or on Presto Experts. She invites you to join her on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. 


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