When Parents Grow Old

Nothing prepares kids for the time their parents grow old; nothing is as devastating as that. They react to it as though the parent has betrayed them. My personal take on the subject is rather like Anthony Powell’s who said Growing old’s like being increasingly penalized for a crime you haven’t committed.

When Parents Grow Old - Ageing Parents - Dealing With Old Age Parents

It is very strange, growing old is inevitable, but the reactions are so strong against it. One has to accept it, and I do, for most part. My hinges and joints need oiling, I need my pills, my brain is chock full of old incidents and concepts, which growing information and technology has made redundant, and I can get repetitive. My kids groan and talk down to me, they have more information and they do not hesitate or mince words when they tell me that.

We used to value our grandparents and parents for the experience and wisdom they could impart. The younger generation just Googles it! Technology, I have a very big bone to pick with you. You’ve made me obsolete!

But that apart, you know what does not go obsolete? The parent-child bond. We like to see the parent as a safe haven, a sanctuary, the primary care giver. If I close my eyes and recollect my parents, I remember them as young, vigorous, vibrant and happy. They have since passed on, but that is the memory I carry, not the image of them old, tired, and feeble. And that is natural.

It hit me one day, when I was more than normally impatient with my father as he carefully counted out change and handed it to a fruit vendor. Time had thinned his once luxuriant head of hair, it was silver, his shoulders were slightly drooped and his movements slow. I bit back the urge to pay the man myself and hurry him up. When had he grown old?

And then the typical self-absorbed thought every kid faces hit me, “What about me? Who’ll watch my back now and when he passes on?”

I recently had a health scare. I expected concern, I expected love and care.

My sons reacted completely contrary to that! The younger one was at home; he took me to the hospital, stayed with me and did whatever was necessary. No mollycoddling – mind you. The older one was furious. He said I had brought it upon myself and when he came back to the country (he was abroad) he scolded me.

It confused me at first, I am past 50 and aging is natural. I have lived a stressful life. Health issues are a natural progression of stress. Then it hit me.

They are my kids. I am aging, and they are simply unable to accept it. They are my kids, they are unable to give me the reassurance I need. Instead I have to reassure them and keep looking young and vigorous; the way my parents did for me, so that I would continue to feel secure.

Ritu Lalit is the author of two novels, A Bowlful of Butterflies published by Rupa & Co., and Hilawi published by Popular Prakashan. She is a single parent and blogs at www.phoenixritu.com

  • I get scared too when I see my parents hair turning grey. Old age is the most difficult phase of life and it has to be accepted with no choice. We as kids really don’t realize that our parents need our help and support because we have got so used to the idea of being taken care by them. In childhood when someone would say that when you will get married, your dad will be old by that time and I would cry my heart out saying No, My Daddy can never get old….
    I know the truth now.

    • Yes its hard to accept … and I see my sons struggle in accepting this truth of life. I am aging, and they are not liking it

  • Even being the “grown-ups” we consider ourselves to be, our world does fall apart when our parents get ill, even if it is a passing cold. You are not supposed to be sick, for God’s sake! You are supposed to hold my hand when I do! But of course, rest of the time, we are telling them in not so many words that we are smarter while they are redundant- which is more for us to make believe that you’ve grown out of the habit of needing your parents. Like that’s possible.
    Great post, Ritu!

    • You nailed it. Most of the big adult stuff is make believe, I know from personal experience that one grows into an adult only after one has moved away, far far away from the parent or the parent has died

  • Ohh How I can relate to this ! I react in the same manner as your sons. Impatient and irritated when my parents take time to understand things, when they forget things or feel unwell. It simply boils down to being unable to accept that parents can age ..its like a panic attack .. who will watch my back now ! Its not a nice feeling !

    • Its downright unpleasant and the child feels its so unfair. I know …

  • jayshri

    This concept is v new to me though i understand.my mom remained proud of her ageing proudly embraced grsndmotherhood .for my father it ws an issue but i nvr saw him color his hair or meep pretences.my husband is completely grey and nvr bothered to hide it.tho the boys once in a while mk fun of me yet to me too ageing is a natural proces.i c my frnds fear old age.i am ready to be a grandma and njoy tht phase too.sumhw thaat kinda fear is nt there yet.

    • You have not got it Jayshri. Its not about the parent accepting old age, its about kids letting go, and accepting that parents also need to age and will die. The children cant and wont accept it.

  • Hugs to to you for such a sweet accepting post. I am one of those who never imagined to see my parents get old. Mom is not even 50 and I can see her age…not gracefully though. The stresses of life has made her old, way before she aged. Now, I can see her teeth loosening, anemic and I behave like your kids do…isn’t it part of nature?

    • It is. I’ve done this too. I simply did not want to comprehend and accept that they were growing old.

  • yes, it is fear that makes us react badly when we see our parents getting on in years!

  • Well articulated. Gave me answers to so many Qs that I had about my own parents.

  • Well written! Loved reading it. The relation between the aged parents and the growing children is like a see-saw. I am a grand mother. I have very harmonious relations with my children and also grand children. Physically I may be unable to perform many things but mentally I am alert. We have a very positive and pleasant atmosphere at home Some times if I utter the words,’I am old. I cant do it” the children retort. They discuss with me the latest news, and blogs. God bless them.

    • Oh yes, those are the forbidden words in my home too! The reply I get is : Rubbish. You’re just being careless with your health, that is all. You’re not old

  • Nischala

    Very well written. Aging and growing old is a natural part and way of life.. But its hard to accept your parents aging – especially since they’ve always been your pillars and support for life.
    But I think as mature adults, you should accept and support aging parents. After all, they accepted you unconditionally and supported you right through!

    • Theoretically true. But it is surprisingly hard on the younger generation to accept it in real life

  • Tell me about it Ritu! Tell me about it! With a dad in hospital and an old mom struggling to balance it all, tell me about it!

    It takes a while for it all to sink in. But then, it is important for it to sink in. My mom often calls this as a relay race. A couple of years ago, she got the family to sit down and declared, we have run our course. The baton is in your hands now.

    It didnt make much sense then. It was only a matter of time, before it started sinking in. Acceptance helps dealing with it much better. You are bang on! Fantastic post.

    PS : Hope the health scare is done and dusted

    • It is done and dusted, repercussions are still being felt. I am “being disciplined”, every morsel of food I take is being evaluated and I am being scolded for having a sweet tooth. Kind of sweet of the offsprings but tough as pizzas dance seductively in my dreams and truffle cake sings me seductive songs 😀

      They are scared, and concerned and so unwilling to take on the mantle.

  • Amrita Thavrani

    Mother’s hair now has lots of greys, she talks a lot, forgets often.
    Father has slowed down, repeats himself a lot, often falls ill. I am scared, but can’t afford to show my fear to them. Its quite similar when my daughter complains of a stomach ache and I give her a concerned-ignore, I get worried but don’t show that to her. All these three kids, keep me worried.

    • Circle of life! It happens. I think when lots were being drawn, I drew on the lot named “Be strong, forever.” I’m stuck with it