By Marsha Sutton
There is great irony at the intersection of contrasting worlds.
As children approach the end of college and face their future with the whole world before them, we have learned gradually how to let go and give them the freedom they as newly minted young adults have earned. Contrast this with our newfound role as caregivers to aging parents grappling with declining health and end-of-life issues, and you have a seismic collision of emotions that undermines normal coping mechanisms.
Watching our elderly become increasingly weak, frail and timid is juxtaposed against our adult children’s strength, confidence and boldness – with maybe a hint of apprehension and panic they both share.
Our children’s adventures we ourselves can identify with and remember from our own past, while our parents’ future we foresee as memories yet to come.
As joy and fear battle for our attention, we do our best to navigate through the confusion and emotional upheaval of being sandwiched in between.
For the first time, our adult children are coming face-to-face with a future all their own. Since birth, their lives have been planned for them. Most kids in our suburban communities follow a pre-determined path: preschool, elementary school, middle school, high school and four years of college. Ages zero to 21, their lives are laid out for them in a secure, organized manner.
And then … it’s over. They now have the freedom to do anything their hearts desire and walk whatever path they choose. They may decide to continue their education, travel, work, engage in charity missions or community service, or embark on any number of other adventures.
Sure, as younger children they had the power to make some choices. But compared with the question, “What do you want to do with the rest of your life?”, deciding whether to pick baseball or soccer, violin or piano, seems trivial.
This may be one of the most exciting, yet frightening, time in their lives – filled with opportunity, anxiety and, sometimes, chaos.
While we revel in the delight and suspense of our children’s release from the programmed lives they’ve led for 21 years, the other side of life presents itself in bleak contrast. Seeing parents face an increasing inability to care for themselves is an ironic offset to the excitement of watching grown children facing a bountiful array of options.
Both parents and children may be afraid of what lies ahead – our kids because of the infinite choices before them, and our parents because of the inevitability of the singular fate that awaits them. Limitless and limited. Boundless and bound. The joys and sorrows of life.
As I come to terms with the realization that my father really shouldn’t be driving any longer, my older son is taking control over his own auto insurance and my younger son will soon have his driver’s license.
As my older son begins to understand the intricacies and mysterious language of health care – deductibles, premiums, adjustments, EOBs – he’ll take on a greater personal role in choosing doctors, informing himself of choices and options for services, selecting an insurance plan that meets his needs, and deciphering often incomprehensible bills and statements.