Nothing prepares you for the job of parenting a parent.


It does not matter what your relationship with that parent is or how old you are, the day the roles change the entire world feels different – because for you – and for them – it is different. There are so many reasons why, when, and how this happens: illness, injury, aging, financial difficulties and so on, but what matters most is that it happens.

Natural as it is in the grand scheme of things – it may feel unnatural, but it is the “Real Situation” as Bob Marley reminds us in the song – the truth that in life we are “once a man and twice a child.”

It does not happen the same way in all families, and not at all like you see in the movies. I remember watching a film on the subject called The Savages – staring the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman , directed by Tamara Jenkins. It rendered what felt like such a distant culture, it was so unfamiliar, honestly, it felt foreign to my existence. Yet it is a road most of us must travel.

The Pew Research published a global snapshot of how we are aging as well as our attitude towards that pending reality, but the real issues are far more personal than numbers. In a USA Today article Katie Sloane recognizes “That burden increasingly is falling on family members.” If you are from a tradition that does not easily accept this as the way of things – or from a troubled family dynamic – it will be even more difficult.

The statistics and the assessed cost are an important part but it is the emotional aspect that is most costly and in dire need of attention, especially if you are in that situation now or will be in the near future. I just had my turn and have been changed by it forever, in many wonderful ways, but nonetheless changed.

I would like to offer 8 things to remember when parenting a parent. Why 8 – it is considered the luckiest number in Chinese culture and when laid on its side – ∞ – represents infinity. As a global citizen, I find I am influenced by many things, and in many different combinations. It is much like the combination of things in Malinowski’s Magic, Science and Religion. The essay brought forth in me a consciousness of the times in life where we reach out for all the available forces around us.

In any case, the 8 and ∞ represent the need for luck in the spiritual sense and the hopefulness in the concept of endlessness. These are both key ideas – and so is being generous and elegant throughout the process.

  • Balance in and out of the moment: while in much of life everyone tells you to be in the moment, at times the moments can be unbearable. When that happens – it helps to have a holistic view – focus on the best of the relationship and not just the moment. This is especially helpful in the midst of a crisis.
  • Count your blessings: become disciplined at seeing the glass half full. It will help you and everyone around you, especially doctors, nurses, caretakers and anyone who may offer assistance.
  • Think about smaller increments of time: day-by-day can and will turn into minute by minute.
  • Tell each other stories: when gathered talk of happier times.
  • Say thank you: as often as you can, to everyone you can.
  • Watch your anger: watch your anger…
  • See your own doctors regularly during the process
  • Meditate, take walks, pray, listen to music, and engage in life affirming rituals throughout.

“Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live” Norman Cousins