The Caregivers' Journey: A Long and Winding Path

By Marsha Kay Seff

"The Caregivers' Journey" appears here monthly. Marsha Kay Seff wrote and edited the San Diego Eldercare Directory for 10 years. She knows first-hand about the ups and downs of caregiving, as she brought her aging parents to San Diego from Miami Beach in order to look after them. Her column will discuss the challenges faced by adults in caring for their aging parents. Direct email inquiries or responses to

Becoming your parents’ parent conjures up pictures of “tangled apron strings.”

As a child, the strings seemed well-defined. You needed your parents and their role was to fulfill your needs. Now, with your parents aging and leaning increasingly on you, the apron strings are tangled, wound tightly around you.

This role reversal isn’t easy for any of you. Your parents, no doubt, are fighting furiously to cling to their dignity and independence. And you’re pulled between the demands of your life and theirs.

Your parents will always think of you as their child. And taking directions from their child is bound to rub them the wrong way, at least some of the time. Neither is it easy to become the conductor of your parents’ later life.

Sometimes, you overstep your boundaries; often, they fight back. But if you act lovingly, you can’t go too far wrong.

You’ll probably end up taking over your parents’ shopping, finances and medical decisions gradually. The biggest mistake you can make is waiting until a crisis to make changes.

The trick is to help steer your parents in the right direction without steamrolling them, suggesting – not demanding.

I used to give my mom choices, so she could help make the decisions.

“Mom, shall we install a shower seat or would a walk-in tub be better?”

It’s not uncommon for aging parents to be less concerned about their safety than you are. The experts say we need to respect our parents’ wishes as much as possible, as long as they’re not endangering anyone else.

But I knew if they got hurt or sick, I was the one who was going to have to nurse them, so I was too strict sometimes.

I try not to beat myself up about my mistakes. because I know I did the best I could. Even so, if I had it to do over, I would have done some things differently. I regret that I refused to give my dad his wallet and some cash when he was in a skilled-nursing facility, because he didn’t need money and I was afraid if would be stolen. It probably would have. But so what?
It was a small expense in order to allow Dad to claim a little independence.

You’ll make mistakes, too. The knots in the apron strings will become tighter. But all you can do is what seems best at the time.

Sponsored by Right at Home, In-Home Care & Assistance,, (951) 506-9628, Contact Marsha Kay Seff at


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