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They're Your Parents, Too!

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Caring for aging parents
Photo © Francine Russo / Bantam Books

The Bottom Line

Were you the "good girl" or "Dad's favorite" or the "peacemaker"? Roles that people played during their early years are relevant as they go through "the twilight transition." That's Francine Russo's term for the time when adult siblings must take responsibility for aging parents. She focuses especially on "the emotional dynamics" of what she terms "our first family"--our parents and siblings. They're Your Parents, Too! is subtitled, "How Siblings Can Survive Their Parents' Aging Without Driving Each Other Crazy." The book is a soberer treatise than that title suggests, but it is just as helpful as it promises to be.

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Pros

  • Fills a real need
  • Well-written
  • Lots of first-person accounts
  • Practical advice at the end of each part

Cons

  • Perhaps attempts to cover too many topics
  • Coverage of some topics is sketchy

Description

  • Published by Bantam
  • Hardcover
  • 304 pages

Guide Review

Francine Russo knows whereof she speaks. She begins this book with a poignant account of her own history as a distant adult child who allowed her sister to bear the burden of her ill mother's care. After her mother died, she found herself engulfed by grief and guilt, while simultaneously dealing with her sister's anger and her father's hurt. "I didn't realize that something new was expected of me when my parents got old," Russo writes, "that I would need to make a developmental leap, emotionally." In her role as a journalist, she soon realized that thousands of people were caught up in similar struggles. She began to interview those involved in the field, from hospice workers to social workers and family law attorneys. Most importantly, however, she began to interview people actually caught up in "the twilight transition."

The four parts of this book correspond to the four phases of the transition, as most families experience them.

  • Part One, "Confronting a New Family Passage," deals primarily with recognizing the importance of this transition. "How we navigate this passage with our siblings determines, in large part, whether we remain a connected family after our parents die, and what our connection will be like." That's a sobering thought for any family member.
  • Part Two, "Return to the House of Childhood," discusses the re-emergence of old conflicts and rivalries as well as adjusting to new family patterns. One interesting fact which Russo uncovered is that families tend to have one principal caregiver. It's almost unheard of for siblings to share equally in the care of aging parents. That doesn't mean the siblings are off the hook. Part Two closes with a discussion of one of the most problematical aspects of elder care: decision-making. Who pays the bills, who gets the power of attorney, what to do when a parent becomes incompetent--these are all decisions which must be made as part of the "twilight transition."
  • Part Three, "Slipping Away," begins with a discussion of dementia. Caring for a parent with dementia, Russo asserts, is "longer, harder and different" from caring for one with other conditions, and it requires more family unity while simultaneously wreaking havoc with family harmony. This chapter also deals with making difficult end-of-life decisions.
  • Part Four, "Reinventing the Family for Our Generation" presents a plan of sorts for dealing with the loss of parents. It covers public and private mourning and accepting that people mourn differently. Then, of course, there is the issue of legacies, both the legal will and the other items to be divided.

The last part closes with a blueprint for "Sustaining the Family Connection Into the Future." One researcher describes siblings' connections as resembling an hourglass--full in childhood, tenuous in young adulthood and full again in middle age and later. That may be true of most siblings, but it's more likely to be true of siblings who read this book and take its lessons to heart.

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