What I’ve Realized Since My Boyfriend’s Mom Moved in With Us
We’ve tried to maintain some aspects of the life we had before.
by Kyle Raymond Fitzpatrick
It’s been a weird summer for my boyfriend and I, largely because we’ve found ourselves increasingly parenting our parents.
For me, the situation is simple: my parents are turning to me and my siblings for advice. They ask about little things – like technology and politics – but their questions are creeping into more personal territory.
A recent divorce in the family has put them closer to an uncoupling than they’ve ever been.
“Do we help them get a lawyer?” they asked me. “Do we need to fly out for court dates?” they asked me. “How do we help them?” they asked me.
These are questions they’ve never had to deal with and, really, neither have I.
Regardless, I’m the person they’re turning to for advice, telling them to help with the lawyer but that they should support a person through a problem like divorce, not try to solve the problem for them.
There were many heavy silences in these discussions, blank spaces occupied by the quiet sounds of their gears turning. Maybe they were realizing for the first time that their children are adults. It is an interesting position for all of us.
For my boyfriend (and, by default, me as well) playing parent-to-a-parent is a much bigger job: his mother recently moved in with us for economic and practical reasons.
He, an only child, was raised by a single mother who co-parented with the help of his grandmother. When his grandmother passed away at age 94 this summer, his mother swapped her role as a relative who lived hours away from us for a new one as our live-in dependent. She’s saddled with debt and living without savings. Without her mom, there were only two people she could turn to: us.
It’s been an interesting process, living with a sexagenarian looking for a job in a city new to her, an experience that is unfolding from her new life on our couch. My boyfriend and I are helping her write cover letters and make friends. We make dinner for our new family unit every night.
To mixed results, we’re making this caregiving situation work, at the expense of personal freedoms, savings accounts and mental health. This situation is temporary, yes, but as I told my boyfriend days after she moved in: this is our life now. There will never not be a moment when we are not the caregivers for his mother.
So, I made an appointment with a therapist.
The next big thing
Compared to the lives of many caregivers, our situation isn’t too tough. For one thing, there’s no medical aspect. But, as the Mayo Clinic puts it, a caregiver is “anyone who provides help to another person in need.” We’re doing that in our way.
This is happening for millennials more and more. The average U.S. caregiver is 49 years old, but one in four caregivers is a millennial.
The issue is that most millennial caregivers are not financially equipped for the role, a 2018 AARP study found. They don’t have the support systems they need to thrive, either emotionally or economically, under the circumstances.
Millennial caregivers can face setbacks in their own careers and in starting their own families.
David Grusky, a professor of sociology at Stanford University, sees the issue as compounding of problems for an age group who have historically been beset by problems.
Millennials “are the first generation to experience in full blush a ‘new economy’ in which upward mobility is uncommon, income inequality is extreme and work is precarious,” Grusky said. “If that weren’t enough, many of them also entered the economy in the midst of the Great Recession, not exactly an opportune time to attempt to start a career.”
This is especially true for black millennials, he said.
Paired with student debt, low-paying jobs, lack of homeownership and racial inequality, the stress of caregiving for millennials is no joke. The result is long-term scarring, Grusky said.
[ICYMI: Young Adults Step Up to Care for Aging Loved Ones]
The reality of ‘parentification’
Much of my boyfriend’s and my specific problem has to do with something called “parentification.” The term refers to “children who act as their parents’ caretakers,” said Fran Brown, president of the Michigan School of Psychology and a private-practice psychologist.
There are two types of parentification — destructive and adaptive — and they have very different results.
Read the full article HERE on rewire-org.