I was the informal adult child caregiver for my father-in-law for the last several years of his life. My experience was mostly joyful but had its challenging moments. We were fortunate to be able to move him to live with us and have a multi-generational home. We ate dinner together every night as a family, frequently breaking into song over dessert. As he passed through this developmental stage and experienced the physical and cognitive changes that come with aging, our home became somewhat of a nursing home. There were times when my husband and I could not take vacations together, and I missed many classes. As I spoke with other middle-aged adult children, I found that not everyone in my position was experiencing as much joy as we were, and that many of them found the role reversal to be somewhat overwhelming and frustrating.
My interest lies in supporting elders and their families as they adjust to the changes brought by aging. This includes support while they learn to adapt to new realities and the changing roles within the family system. The physical, emotional, and cognitive shifts that accompany this life process have a profound impact on the older adult and the family system. I want to address the loss, grief, and joys that accompany these transitions. As a social work student, I thought about the implications our aging population will have on other adult children, and I was interested in how we prepare for these changes.
I spend some time each week interviewing adult children about their experiences. My research began with the simple question, “What has caring for your aging parents been like for you?” Sometimes I ask follow-up questions to delve deeper into a story, and sometimes the story just spills out. The more I listen to these experiences, the more I realize that this is likely to be my life’s work. Each story takes me into the sacred space of a family as they navigate their way through a new phase in their lives together. These are not always easy stories to tell, and I am honored to be trusted with them.