How being a caregiver helped me see my mistakes

More times that I wish, I made the mistake of forgetting to consider my parents' perspective. In temperamental outbursts, I snapped, yelled, judged, and criticized my parents for not reacting to difficult situations the way I think they should have reacted. It's been a long time since this happened, I think. The way I remember it, it happened a lot when I was in my 20s.  But maybe it happened more than that.

Focused on my own ambition, I mistakenly did not recognize that my parents were doing the best they could in many overwhelming situations.  These days, in my early 40s, I try to make up for that mistake every day.  I don't do this out of guilt.  I do this because this is what my parents deserve: understanding.

I didn't always consider the challenges of two immigrants who wanted the best for their four children but did not always get what they hoped for. They faced one child's leukemia diagnosis without medical insurance, two others' urban struggles without knowledge of what to do, and one's ambitious dreams that they could not afford to financially support. In all this flurry, I mistakenly forgot that my parents, once upon a time, had dreams, too.

Besides dreaming of their children leading successful lives, my mom would have liked to be a teacher, and my dad wanted to own his own auto repair garage.

I understand, now, my father’s silence during the early 90s when he struggled to provide for our home because the medical bills kept coming and his check was simply not enough.  I understand now my mother’s patient effort to keep us united even though, as teens, all four of us made selfish decisions.  I understand, now, why she didn’t judge us, why she didn’t explode.  Now, I see how I failed to see my father’s courage.  Now, I see how I failed to see my mother’s compassion.

Recently, in some photos, I saw myself differently.  My beard is mostly silver, my sideburns are completely.  A couple of times, a few years ago, I dyed my hair with something that kept a little of the gray.  I splattered the bathroom walls and sink with the hair dye—a complete mess.   So I keep my hair natural now.  I like my salt-and-pepper hair.

I see the silver in my parents’ hair.  I recognize how the years affected my dad’s mobility and my mom’s health.  My 79-year-old pops struggles to walk after a couple of mild strokes.  My 66-year-old mom, my hero, is fighting the aftermath of shingles.

When my mom is sick, she doesn’t play music.  And she loves music: Tex-Mex, cumbias, polkas, anything she can dance to.  Two years ago, she wrote about how much she loves music.  “I am not a television person,” my mom wrote.

My dad, however, loves baseball on TV.  I’m grateful baseball season started so he can enjoy the game.  He hates soccer.  An immigrant from a northern Mexico farm, my dad tells me he played shortstop and catcher as a kid.  A Carta Blanca beer distributor sometimes bought them baseball mitts.

While watching baseball with my pops or playing lotería with my mom, I try to find opportunities to ask about their lives.  In the short stories they tell, I see their side of life, especially when it’s a story I’ve heard before.

A few months ago, I started describing myself as caregiver, one of their caregivers.  For me, this means I cook for my mom and dad as much as I can.  I make sure they have their meds.  In between quick visits and everyday phone calls, I try to have dinner with them at least two days a week.  Still, I sometimes wish I could do more.  There’s a sense of satisfaction in taking care of my parents.  But sometimes, there’s so much doubt because I wonder if I should be doing more.

Compared to many other caregivers, I have it easy.  My parents still live independently.  Because of my ambition, my effort, and, perhaps, lots of luck, I can help my parents financially.  And I’m not alone in these efforts. I know I have it easy.

When I feel myself getting down about my parents’ struggles in their older age, I remind myself of their strength over the years.  In conversations with my wife and good friends, the Compadres who also care for aging parents, I remember I cannot lose my optimism.  I continue to keep looking forward—mobilizing myself to ensure my parents have everything they need in the meantime.

As my parents age, I work on being more patient. I wait for my dad to move at his pace.  I wait and wait for my mom’s nerve pain to end.  I started taking her to acupuncture last week.  Regularly, I am reminded that the effects of an illness on a person are unpredictable and that my role as caregiver is to instill unending hope in a person who, at times, cannot find it.

And I’m becoming more comfortable with controlling what I can and letting go of what I cannot.  I’ve made the mistake too many times of wanting to control what I cannot.

In any caregiving situation, tensions will arise with other family members.  But I remember I cannot make things worse by dictating what I think should happen.  I’ve made that mistake, too.  Instead, I’ve learned to ask: “Who can take mom to her appointment?”   Or “Can you be there with the plumber goes?”

I’ve learned to accept that not everyone thinks like me.  Each person will show love and care in his or her own way.

And when things do not work out the way I wanted them to, I’ve learned to re-direct myself to make the situation better, not worse by getting publicly angry.  I’ve made that mistake too many times.

I’ve also made the mistake before of not asking for help.  Thankfully, I am surrounded by a tight network of good friends and an incredibly supportive spouse.  I talk to them when I feel disappointed or angry.  Every caregiver needs a support system, and I am grateful for what I have.  This is how I take care of myself.

Now that I’m older, I work to evoke the patience my mother always had and the determination my father always showed.

I’ve made the mistake of being impatient and of losing hope too many times.  I cannot let that happen as I care for my parents in their older age.

In photographs, I’m looking more and more like my father.  With another photograph, I remembered I have my mother’s hands.

Too many times, I made the mistake of not seeing my parents’ perspective in difficult situations.  But now as I care for my aging parents, I look to find their courage and their compassion somewhere deep inside of me.


This post is part of our monthly ChicagoNow blogger community challenge.  This month's prompt was "Write about a time you made a mistake and were wrong about something."  To read posts by other bloggers, click here.

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