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Decision Making is Educational: Knowing Where We Stand

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As I watch my daughter grow, I also discover my parents ageing. Since I don’t always get to visit my Bostonian parents yearly, the shock of seeing my parents turning frail becomes more apparent during those occasional home visits.


Fortunately, the reality of my parents ageing is easier to bear when I remind myself of how fortunate I am that I still have both parents around for wise words and comfort, albeit we live in different continents. However, comforting as that may be, it doesn’t take away the reality that the time has come for the need to prepare to care for my elderly parents, both mentally and physically.

For most of us in our forties and fifties, we’re positioned between two generations that simultaneously need our TLC. Being situated in the middle of two poles of the generation scale, we need to be competent decision makers in order to juggle the responsibilities of caring for our children while preparing for elderly care.

To be a responsible and competent caregiver, it may be helpful to keep in mind that the difference between educating a nine-year-old and a seventy-nine-year-old is to always encourage our children to fall, but to never allow our parents to fall. These two decisions are crucial to keeping our children and parents mentally and physically balanced.

The key to feeling good about these two decisions lies in knowing exactly where we stand in the generation scale, and knowing the responsibilities that come from being in that all-important mid-position.

Let Our Children Fall

Children have the luxury of falling one hundred times and not being traumatized. Youth mends broken bones and innocence mends broken promises, while we can always depend on education to pave their journey towards finding solutions to both psychological and physical pains.

But education can only take place when adults give children room to make their own decisions, and allow them to suffer the consequences. Falling is inevitable, but with practice, the falling becomes less painful. And the returns gained from falling is the educational experience towards knowing oneself.

But how do we parents stand firm in our decision to let our children take that plunge, with the possibility of falling? How do we resist shortening the process of our children’s pain? How do we cringe yet still give our children the opportunity to struggle?

By reflecting on the wisdom that came from our own childhood education, we can stand firm that our decision to let our children fall is the right decision.

While we can be a safety net to catch our children when they fall, it’s a different story when it comes to our parents

From our own experiences, we know that giving our children the liberty to fall will eventually lead them to develop their own sense of identity, establish their own friendship boundaries, understand notions of right and wrong, and to experiment and explore their threshold of pain, so that change and growth could take place. And as our children get older and face more dramatic emotional and physical changes, self-knowledge could get them through any fall.

Therefore, what we can do as parents is to stand firm in our decision to let our children fall, while we offer understanding and assurance. Then we could stand back with pride as we watch them succeed in their journey towards perfecting a progressively refined sense of self.

Don’t Let Our Elderly Parents Fall

While we can be a safety net to catch our children when they fall, it’s a different story when it comes to our parents. It’s crucial that as sons or daughters, that we, at all times, protect our parents from even the slightest possibility of falling. Because we all know that one seemingly harmless fall could result in dire consequences.

While our parents age and struggle to maintain mental and physical independence, the skill of balancing our roles as supporters without crossing the line into treating our parents like children, is a feat that requires the wisdom of empathy. While we can’t let our parents fall, we also don’t want to suffocate them into feeling like we don’t trust them to stand on their own two feet.

The education of empathy reveals that no one wants to feel like they can no longer take care of themselves. Therefore, it’s crucial that while we take “control” of our parents’ mental and physical health, that we don’t take control of their pride of maintaining a sense of independence.

The irony is that we spend a large part of our life learning the skills to become independent, yet when we age, we have to relearn more complex skills in order to maintain that independence, without the luxury of youth, memory, or coordination. While we may not directly know what this loss of self-control may feel like, empathy could guide us towards being understanding and supportive throughout our caregiving journey.

Therefore, we must be adamant in our position to protect our parents from falling (mentally and physically), because our parents’ self-knowledge plus our own wisdom to empathize, tell us that it’s the right decision for all parties.

With the love, encouragement, and education that my parents provided for me in my childhood, I can transfer the ways in which they cared for me to my own daughter. And now, as an adult daughter facing the reality of my ageing parents needing my support, I feel equipped to shoulder the vulnerabilities, sensitivities, and complexities that come with this shift of responsibility. As long as I know where I stand in my decision to encourage my children to fall, while being vigilant to prevent my parents from ever falling, I can go to bed peacefully each night knowing that I am simultaneously providing the best possible personal and intellectual care to both generations.

Flora Chan

Flora Chan was born in Hong Kong and raised in Boston, USA where she pursued a dual career in television and teaching..

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