Role Reversal: Adjusting To Caring For Your Parents

By Barbara Schuh

Learn how to first come to terms with the idea of role reversal, as you become the parents to your parents.

Go to a dinner party or the gym and you are sure to hear of someone fretting about a parent’s health and wellbeing. The number of adult children caring for their parents has reached over 44 million. In addition, many are caring for their parents while still raising their own children, hence the term “sandwich generation.” “It becomes important to first come to terms with the idea of role reversal, as you become the parents to your parents.”

The majority of the adult children caregivers are women taking on yet another aspect of the traditional role of caring. One major difference is that the kind of resources and support one finds for caring for our children is harder to find when caring for our parents. So many adult children muddle through the day-to-day realities putting bandaids on where they can and handling crises as they arise. We are living in a different time, with people living longer than ever before, yet with more health ailments.

Many of us did not have role models for caring for the elderly like we had for caring for children. It can seem daunting. The worst part is that many of our parents don’t want our help or don’t want to be a bother. Their need for independence is vital—never did they think they would be leaning on their children for support. It becomes important to first come to terms with the idea of role reversal, as you become the parents to your parents. The psychological impact is not to be taken lightly. For many of us, we have never seen our parents so vulnerable.

The pain of watching them deteriorate is real. In many instances, old wounds begin to re-emerge. Sibling rivalries flare up. But instead of seeing this as an extra burden, this can be a wonderful time to heal those wounds and deepen the relationship with one’s parents and siblings. Take time to speak with a friend or therapist if you need help coping with the feelings that arise. Join a support group for adult children caring for their parents. Have family meetings to make sure everyone is on the same page.

The truth be known, most of us will be caring for an older adult at some time in our life, whether we like it or not. To prepare it is essential to begin gathering information. Beyond all the articles on, one of the best places to start is your local Area Agency on Aging (AAA). Every county in the country has an AAA, which oversees all the state and federal programs on aging. Other resources are available at the Alzheimer’s Association, which provides education, information and support groups for the many forms of dementia. Many local senior centers provide classes and support groups for adult children caring for their parents.

Check your local newspaper for upcoming classes. Remember, you are not alone…you are one of over 44 million people caring for your parents. Barbara Schuh is the founder of Schuh and Associates in Manitowoc, WI, which offers consulting and coaching services to existing home care and care management companies, from start-up and growth to exit strategies as well as in the area of veteran benefits. Until she relocated, Barbara was the owner of Companion Care in Lafayette, CA, an integrated home care and geriatric care management company.