Role Reversal: Planning Ahead for Parenting Your Parents 1

Remember the days when your parents did everything for you and you depended on them for so much? From early youth, they took care of your every need—bathing, dressing, feeding, driving you around, hiring babysitters, and making important decisions about health care, school and home. In your older years, you depended on them for advice and emotional and often financial support. They bailed you out of many situations. They were always there for you. 

Did you ever think in those days of your youth that someday you would be called upon to do the same for them? Caring for their personal needs: bathing and dressing, driving them around, preparing their meals, hiring caregivers, and sometimes providing financial help; being responsible for their medical and financial decisions and making sure they have a safe place to live and adequate care.

Suddenly, you are the parent and they are the child! Despite this role reversal, they are still your parents and they deserve your respect. Sometimes you may have to make decisions for them that they are not happy with, but are in their best interest—it’s a very complex and complicated relationship, not to mention stressful and exhausting for the adult child who is responsible for an aging parent along with their own life needs. Perhaps they are still raising children at home, or helping with grandchildren, and working. Welcome to the Sandwich Generation.

The Sandwich Generation

An estimated 22% of the U.S. population can be classified as the Sandwich Generation, and that number is steadily growing, with nearly two-thirds of Baby Boomers expected to be caring for an aging parent in the next 10 years. In fact, the average woman will spend more time parenting her aging parents than her own children! The number of Americans over age 65 will leap from 34 million in 1995, to 62 million by 2025, and 80% of older adults who need long-term care receive care in a home setting from family or friends.

As a Geriatric Care Manager and CEO and Supervisor of Direct Care for ADVANTAGEPLUSCAREGIVERS, I have seen firsthand the stress caregiving can cause families. Often, during a family consultation, I find that many adult children and caregivers are clueless about some basics that can ease stress and provide needed support. Advance planning is the key to prevent acting in “crisis prevention mode” when something happens.

Utilizing the services of a Geriatric Care Manager, Home Care Agency, Estate Planning Attorney, or other geriatric professional can help make the process go more smoothly. Consider these caregiver basics:

  1. 1.  TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF: You cannot do it all. You can’t help anyone else if you become ill yourself.
  2. 2. FIND RESOURCES: Don’t be afraid or ashamed to ask for help. Resources are available in the community to help you.
  3. 3. CONSIDER ROLE REVERSAL: Put yourself in your aging parent’s position—they are dealing with loss of independence, illness, loss of spouse and/or close friends, fear of what will happen to them—and the difficulty of accepting help from their own children.
  4. 4. COMMUNICATE: Communicate with your family, friends, employer, spiritual advisor and others about what you are facing; ask for support.
  5. 5.  INVOLVE FAMILY: Recruit siblings, adult children and local family members to help.
  6. 6. LEGAL/HEALTH CARE MATTERS: Make sure that Powers of Attorney for Health Care and financial matters are in place. Important information about medications/medical providers/emergency contacts, and the Advanced Directive for Health Care and POLST documents should be easily accessible.

Start with these basics and consider contacting ADVANTAGEPLUSCAREGIVERS for complimentary planning information and care management, as well as resources for additional services. After almost 25 years in this business, we have seen a lot of changes, and surely there are more to come, but the one thing that is for sure is that planning ahead is critical, and help is available if you ask for it.

Melanie Farber, CEO, CSA, is the Supervisor of Direct Care at ADVANTAGEPLUSCAREGIVERS in Ventura County. Contact her at 805.322.8822 to set up a complimentary family assessment or learn more at