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Parenting parents

Families celebrate graduations throughout the nation this month. Young men and women are moving to another level of education or vocation. As parents, we can get teary-eyed realizing that our baby is growing up and moving on. Yet we can rejoice in this wonderful blessing of raising children in the Lord.

As parents, weren’t we overjoyed when we had our children? We sought to meet their every need. We fed them, changed their diapers until they were potty trained, corrected them when they did wrong, drove them to every event under the sun until they got their driver’s license, and had them live with us until they got their own place.

We enjoyed watching so many firsts in their lives. We had dreams of what they would be when they grew up. We sometimes jokingly told our children to get a good job, so that they could take care of us in our old age. What was said jokingly, however, would become a reality for us as caretakers.

Personally, my wife and I got a little nervous—but excited—about being “empty-nesters.”

We would have more time to travel, to do more home projects, and to enjoy the company of each other. However, before our daughter graduated high school and went to college, we needed to bring my mother-in-law to live with us. The nest had a new occupant.

She has dementia and could not care for herself. A role reversal took place before our very eyes. We needed to parent a parent. Everything Solomon reminds us of in Ecclesiastes, we saw happening: “When the keepers of the house tremble . . . and those looking through the windows grow dim; . . . and the grasshopper drags itself along” (12:3-5).

Parents age. They can’t take care of themselves, so we seek to meet their needs.

Parents age. They can’t take care of themselves, so we seek to meet their needs. They can’t cook for themselves, so we cook meals for them. They can’t control their mouth, so we need to be their filtered voice. They can’t drive, so we take them to every appointment under the sun. They can’t live alone, so we have them live with us.

My wife and I learned to put breakables out of reach. We learned to hide the sweets, so that they were not eaten up in one sitting. My wife learned new battle strategies at shower time so that clean clothes could be put on. The child became the parent, and the parent returned to childhood. Parenting parents affects many people in our society today.

What a blessing that the child gets to see some of the last things a parent does, but it is not easy. Remember the Fourth Commandment and Luther’s explanation: “Honor your father and mother, that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth. What does this mean? We should fear and love God that we do not dishonor or anger our parents and others in authority, but honor, serve, and obey them, and give them love and respect.” For as long as they live.

Children: Talk with your siblings about parenting your aging parents as a team and talk things over with your parents before the need arises. Spouses: Talk with one another about plans to address parenting parents. Everyone: Pray for an extra measure of patience and wisdom. Finally, trust in the Lord’s promises that your parents are still his children and heirs of eternal life through faith in Jesus.

Author: Snowden G. Sims
Volume 107, Number 05
Issue: May 2020

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  • Snowden Gene Sims

    Pastor Sims is a 1980 graduate of Wisconsin Lutheran High School, a 1985 graduate of Northwestern College, and a 1989 graduate of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. He presently serves as an associate pastor at St. Paul's, Columbus, Ohio. He also serves as the Michigan District President. He is married to Melinda who is an instructor at The Ohio State University. They have a daughter, Erika, who resides in West Allis, Wisconsin. In his spare time Pastor Sims enjoys fishing, hunting, working out, gardening, playing guitar, and listening to jazz.

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