Now parenting the parents

Jim Graham - Contributing columnist

In times like these of relative isolation, it’s good for children to know that their parents are there for them.

Granted, each generation may occasionally feel that the other is “too much with them,” but that’s not a bad thing – better than the alternative of “not there at all,” as too many in our society unfortunately feel most days. The practice of Sheltering-in-Place will be forever with us as part of our “Remember when… ” reminiscences, or for our current kids, “When I was a child…” stories, not to mention possible reoccurrences of such a practice, “practice” being a good term for what we’ve been doing, which hopefully will help us do a better and more timely job next time.

It’s been good for the generations to go through this together.

But then there’s something I’ve been discovering over the last few years as an older guy with adult children, watching our son and daughter-in-law become empty-nesters and our daughter and husband continue to raise their three, and that is that not only have our children have become parents, but more – that as they relinquish their oversight of their children, they begin to “parent” us!

Particularly, our son, who at a holiday family dinner, with our whole extended family present, brought silence to the table as he said, “Dad, I want to say something while everyone is present. Remember when you had trouble getting Pop, (that was my dad), to stop driving for safety reasons? Do you remember what you said?”

“Not really.”

“You said,” he said, “If I ever get to that point, I want you to take my keys away! Now, you’re not there yet,” he added graciously, “but I just wanted us all to be on the same page if and when the time comes.” (I’m still driving, but I recently stopped towing my 37 ft. RV!)

It was all said with good humor. We all had our laugh. But at that moment the child became the parent! Likewise, the gifts of a bicycle helmet and a bright yellow vest – “Don’t leave home without them;” and a walking stick – “Don’t go off paved walkways without it.” In both instances, now heeded, having learned the hard way with consequences of a banged head and a torn tendon. The “child” parenting the parent!

And it has continued, especially so through this pandemic, like advising us to extend our snowbird trip and stay in place. (We didn’t. We came home to stay ahead of the curve, but it was a good, thoughtful discussion, with input from son and daughter). Giving us financial suggestions. (That used to be my job. Still is, but now it’s a two-way street). “Don’t stop to see us on your way home. We want you to stay safe.” (Daughter said the same!). And then, besides phone conversations with each, a weekly Skype – from their sofa to ours – through which we now “see” them more than ever, including a Mother’s Day Zoom with the whole family, much of it with a “how ya doin’” kind of parenting from them to us, and a little the other way, too.

We all need to do some parenting, but we all need to have it the other way around, as well. Despite the aversion of many to paternalistic government, it’s been good to have the likes of our Governor Mike DeWine, and, as a former upstate New Yorker, Governor Andrew Cuomo, show a continuing concern, compassion, and, for the most part, competent leadership and oversight of their states and their people.

Thank you, governors; thank you, parents; thank you, sons and daughters; and might I add, “Thank you, God,” for parenting us with your kindness, goodness and love, and for calling us, not only to take care of one another, but to gratefully let others, once in a while, take care of us!

To fathers young and old: Happy Fathers Day!

Jim Graham is a retired Presbyterian minister.

Weekly columns are provided to the News Journal by members of the Wilmington Area Ministerial Association.

Jim Graham

Contributing columnist