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When parenting roles reverse

Grace Wachira @yaa_grace

From the first day children are ushered into this world and sometimes all the way into adulthood, a parent’s warmth is ever present. The basic children’s rights to food, shelter, and clothing and by extension, education and health fall squarely on parents or guardians.

It doesn’t matter how old you are, being nurtured by a parent or guardian goes a long way. Everyone is someone’s child. But as life would have it, the parent becomes a child as age kicks in.

The once young and sturdy parents evolve into less energetic versions of themselves and this prompts someone to take care of them. Talk of reversed roles. Ten years ago, Hannah Njeri Gitiha was diagnosed with an enlarged heart. “By that time, I lived in Mombasa where I worked. I would visit my mother in Limuru often.

During one of my visits, three years into her ailment, I decided to start living with her,” Jane Nduta Gitiha, Hannah’s daughter reveals. Her 70-year-old mother was not in her best shape.

“I had to assist her to get up, dress her, help her walk, among others,” says the single mother of four. Jane took it upon herself to take care of her ailing mother. “Looking after someone while they are sick or old works wonders. They heal faster and have more zeal for life,” the 49-year-old smiles.

However, in 2015, Jane was diagnosed with cervical cancer. “Four years after I started living with my mum, I was diagnosed with cervical cancer. It was hard on us, but we have managed to alternate roles. When my condition gets, she steps in and we sort of pull through. There is nothing though like spending time with your parents.

They are blessings and are knowledgeable on matters we do not understand,” Jane admits. Through it all, Jane has kept her sanity and sense of humour, in the process forging a deeper, more intimate relationship with her mother.

Her condition has improved and so, has her mother’s. “There is a lot of joy that comes with seeing mother sojourning on in life. It gives me a lot of satisfaction. When they (old parents) are left alone in constrictive old age, they give up on life. Every child has a duty to take care of their parent when the baton exchanges hands,” Jane enlightens.

John Wafula knows this too well. When his mother passed on seven years ago, he had to step in and take care of his father. “My mother and father were each other’s companion. They had two children—my small sister and I.

My sister is married. So, when mum passed on, it was a big blow to dad. However, he refused to live with me in Nairobi. So, I got two house helps for him; one to take care of the shamba and the other to look after the house. I also visit him every two weeks. Most of my annual leave is spent with him,” he says.

Dr Michael Mbiriri, a psychologist, says children who end up taking care of their parents always enjoy a great rapport. “Not everyone decides to take in their parents and shoulder the responsibility. The fact that a parent brought you into this world, raised you and nurtured you to be who you are today doesn’t me one must also care for their parents at old age.

The formidable relationship between the two is what steers this kind of exceptional caregiving,” he says. Circumstances where parents are neglected could stem from the same nature. “If a parent neglected their children when they were young, they will not feel the need to look after them when they are older and helpless,” he says.

“When children are young, parents are in charge and call the shots. But now, they are reduced to eating, dressing and even attending hospitals as directed by their children. They have no say and are helpless. If they did not treat their children well, they get bouts of regret and things sometimes go south,” Dr Mbiriri notes.

Where parents put blood, sweat and tears into rearing their children, they look at it as reaping the fruits of their labour. “These sets of parents are grateful and satisfied with life. They appreciate the care,” he says.

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