Role Reversal

Being Confident In Your Authority As A Caregiver for Your Aging Parent

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Role reversal in caregiving is probably one of the most difficult responsibilities you will tackle. Eliminate chaos and defiance by displaying confidence in your authority as a caregiver. 

One of the hardest aspects of caregiving a parent is seeing your relationship change. A parent is someone you’re supposed to be able to rely on to take care of you. You gladly step into the role of caregiver when you realize they are no longer able to take care of themselves. Now it seems like you can’t do anything right. You try to be respectful. But, how do you respectfully tell your parent they stink and need a shower?

The Battlefield

It was a rough day and it was only 9:00am. I already had my second set of soiled sheets from a refusal to wear underwear in the washing machine. The mess in the kitchen from my MIL’s night of wandering was just now cleaned up. Everything I said to my MIL started an argument but she was in her room now.

My kids were disobedient to me and argumentative with each other. Our home was a battlefield. I didn’t know what to do about it. After yet another tantrum, I sent both kids screaming to their beds to give us all a moment to calm down.
Suddenly I hear my MIL’s voice yelling at my four-year-old and two-year-old, “Shut the crap up! Get a grip! I’ll give you something to cry about!”
I bolted from the kitchen table and was in the hall faster than I ever thought possible. The mama bear had been awakened and was looking for vengeance!

Role reversal in caregiving is probably one of the most difficult responsibilities you will tackle. Eliminate chaos and defiance by displaying confidence in your authority as a caregiver. 

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I straightened myself up to the entirety of my five foot two and a half inch frame. I was ready for battle. The anger was boiling inside me ready to explode.
But instead of domineering and yelling and verbally whipping my MIL into compliance as I fully expected to do, a quiet authority came out of nowhere. I said quietly but very firmly, “Do not EVER, yell at my children. If you have a problem you come get me.”
My mother-in-law raised a finger to put in my face.

I held up my hand to silence her and said, “You are not their mother and you will NEVER discipline my children. You may go to your room and close the door if they are bothering you.”

Would there be consequences?

She glared at me. I could tell she was weighing her options. Should she challenge me on this? I held her gaze with my own and after what seemed like an eternity she rolled her eyes, huffed past me to her room, and harshly closed her door.
Suddenly, I felt a certain measure of confidence. I had won! But at what cost? Would I suffer “consequences” for this confrontation? Would she retaliate with cruel words and rebellious actions? Was this the straw that broke the camel’s back? Were we so quickly at the end of our caregiving journey?

Related Post: Do You Have What It Takes to Be A Caregiver?

While I expected the worst from this event, life moved on. The incident was quickly forgotten by my kids and my MIL. Our day continued normally.

But something had changed within me. This one instance had given me confidence to be mistress of my home, to be the boss. This confidence extended past my role as caregiver and into my parenting.

Role Reversal

A lot of “experts” suggest that role reversal is infantilizing. I found the opposite to be true. When I display a confidence and authority, it spills over into my MIL and children. We need someone to be in charge. More than that, we need someone who is confident in their authority. That’s what role reversal really is. You’re giving your parent a confidence in your authority to make a decision that directly impacts them. This results in:

  • Reduced fear of the task at hand
  • Less room for argument
  • Greater clarity on what is expected
  • Greater sense of confidence in themselves

Stop Asking

I’ve always been a people pleaser. My attitude when things need to be done is a “you can but only if you really want to and it won’t make you mad at me”. I saw this extending into my parenting and caregiving.

My children were politely requested to obey rather than confidently expected. I would gently beg my MIL to care about my efforts to keep her healthy rather than insist. I thought I was doing them a favor by merely modeling the behavior I wanted to see. When you ask you are laying the burden of decision on someone who is not mentally equipped to make it.

Related Post: What Does Parenting Your Parents Really Mean?

Me saying, “Will you please take your medicine?” gives my MIL a choice to say no. I was a fancy doormat, merely a figurehead with the titles of parent and caregiver.
But, when I stopped asking I showed my charges that I was the authority. These people are depending on me. Here I was asking them to make decisions they lacked the mental capacity to make.

No wonder they were all acting out! Having me be the person of authority takes a tremendous weight off my kids and MIL. They are less anxious, less defiant, and much happier.

Someone has to be the authority

One of my greatest fears is being hated. I don’t want my kids or my MIL to hate me. I was under the delusion that if I asked politely they would all sweetly fall in line and we would skip through life in harmony with unicorns and rainbows.

What I learned is someone has to be the authority figure in your home. Someone has to make the rules.

If it’s not you – the mom, the caregiver, the keeper of your home – it will those you are charged to care for. Those that really don’t have the mental acuity to make wise decisions.

Be confident

Confidence in your authority doesn’t mean you walk around all day barking orders and snapping a whip. It doesn’t mean that you lord over your charges demanding perfection. With this great power of authority, there is also great responsibility (channeling my inner Voltaire here).

Always have a purpose or goal in mind.

I instruct my kids to clear the table because it teaches them a necessary life skill. My MIL must wear her underwear to keep her (and everyone else!) clean. I require everyone wear appropriate seasonal clothing to keep them healthy. They don’t always like it or appreciate my efforts but when it’s for their own good I insist upon it.

Always respond, never react.

Reaction is punishment. Response is discipline. Reaction makes it your fault. Response makes it a consequence for their actions. The end.

Related Post: How to Handle Elderly Bad Behavior

You set the tone for your home.

When giving my charge the responsibility of decision making, our home was stressed. I was always putting out fires instead of preventing them. This caused my charges to also feel stress. When you are the confident authority you give our charges confidence in knowing they have someone to depend on.

Don’t be afraid to admit when you’re wrong and ask for forgiveness.

I mess up. A Lot. I hate admitting it, but I’m learning to let my kids and my MIL know when I’ve messed up and ask them to forgive me. It’s humbling but it has given us a greater strength in our relationships. Asking for forgiveness is a great act of love. If I didn’t love you, I wouldn’t need or care about your forgiveness.

I get it, being “in charge” is a tremendous weight but its your responsibility as the mom/caregiver/homekeeper. Someone has to be in charge, let it be you. When used correctly, confident authority will be evidence of your love and care. With your confidence in the natural authority your roles afford, it will spill over. Those you care for will be happier and more confident in their roles. Your home will no longer be a battlefield but a peaceful sanctuary.

Did you like this post? How do you tackle role reversal in your caregiving? Let me know in the comments below!

Empowering women to THRIVE in their multi-generational homes.

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Role reversal in caregiving is probably one of the most difficult responsibilities you will tackle. Eliminate chaos and defiance by displaying confidence in your authority as a caregiver. 

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