Similarities Between Raising Children and Caring for Older People

rasing children and caring for older peopleAs I was walking out of the grocery store yesterday, I was reminded of the similarities between raising children and caring for older people when I observed a young man toting an infant in baby carrier while coaxing his three-year-old son across the parking lot. When we met at the front door, I smiled and said, “Shopping with little ones is quite the adventure!”

He said, “It certainly is. This is my only goal for the day.”

On the drive home, I flashed back thirty-some years to when I lived on a Kansas farm 25 miles from town.  My children were 3 1/2, 19 months, and 2 weeks old.  As  I was pulling all three of them in a grocery cart and pushing another cart filled with groceries, an older woman came up to me and exclaimed, “Oh, honey!  They are so beautiful!  Enjoy them!  This is the best time of your life!”

Horrified at the idea that this might be the best time of my life, I said, “If I really thought that was true, I’d go hang myself in the barn this afternoon!”

I felt ashamed of myself afterward.  My children were beautiful. They were healthy, and I should have felt nothing but gratitude. However, it was hard to feel thankful when I was sleep deprived and overwhelmed with meeting the unending needs of three tiny children.

For the last twenty years or so, whenever I see young people with little ones in tow, I say, “It gets easier.  I promise.”

The most common responses I get are, “Oh, thank God!” and, “I certainly hope so!”

I often add, “This is the hardest work you’ll ever do.”  I think, but I never say, “Until your dad has a stroke, your mother develops Alzheimer’s, or your husband becomes disabled.”

I do believe that the only work that is more challenging than raising children is caring for older people who can no longer care for themselves.  There was a time when I couldn’t imagine that I would ever be able to walk out of the house without a baby balanced on my hip and a diaper bag slung over a burp-stained shoulder.  I thought I might never again sleep through an entire night, eat a meal in one sitting, or live in a house where everyone could take their own bath and use the toilet without assistance.

Now that I am on the other end of the spectrum, I am aware of the similarities of raising children and caring for older adults. Both situations are physically, mentally and emotionally draining.  There’s a lot of drudgery involved, not to mention unpleasant odors and unending messes. Little kids and old people have their own ideas about what they want to eat, when they feel like sleeping, and when they want to bathe; and they aren’t always cooperative or well-behaved.

The other part of caring for little ones and older ones that is similar is the fact that this time in your life won’t last forever.  It’s a period that requires a tremendous amount of patience and sacrifice.  However, when it’s over and you reflect  back on the experience, I’m pretty sure you will realize that while you were caring for them, you were growing in surprising and unexpected ways.

You may regret the moments when you ran out of patience, lost your temper or mismanaged a situation, but you will eventually come to accept that you did the best you could under the circumstances.  You may not have been perfect, but somehow you were able to get out of bed each day and reach deep within to find the strength, courage and humor you needed to do what had to be done.

You may not remember either your child rearing days or your caregiving days as the “best time in your life”, but I’m pretty sure you will feel like the rewards were greater than the sacrifices, and that caring for individuals who cannot care for themselves, whether they’re very young or very old, is the most important and significant work that any of us will ever do.