Trading Places

📅 April 3, 2020

If you’re at least a Baby Boomer or maybe older, you’ve been there:

Handed your devices to a grandchild and gawked as he found what he wanted to watch or play, scrolling, tapping, accessing, linking.

Called “your child” who loves you and pleaded with her to help you get back something you lost on your computer or help you find something else or connect to yet something else…the list may cause you to shiver merely to remember past disasters.

“The child is father of the man.”

Perhaps you remember this quote from English class. It’s from William Wordsworth’s poem, “My Heart Leaps Up.” He actually intended the lines—expressing childlike joy at viewing a rainbow—to mean, “Let me never grow so old that I am unmoved by simple joys.”

But the phrase has been adapted also to mean: eventually the child grows up to become wiser—in some ways—than the parent.

Roles change.

Places “trade.”

And all our lamenting will not change that.

This is one of life’s challenges we all must face. Unflinchingly is best.

Trading places—role reversal—can be one of the best trade-offs of parenthood; that is, rejoicing in the knowledge your child knows more than you do in many areas, is more equipped to live in this age than you, knows answers you do not know.

This switch is also one of the most perplexing of “child-hood,” by which I mean, it is difficult for the son or daughter to make this transition, take the firm posture of intervening in a parent’s life to do what is best for that parent.

At this present writing, the COVID-19 crisis is full blown. My nature, deeply ingrained, is to “take care of myself,” declining offers of help, wandering out to do one more chore during designated Senior Hours.

However, “the foot is down,” so far as my children are concerned. The grandchildren are not here. The playroom is tidy and in order. Promises of “I’ll bring what you need” have been made.

Prior to this period of “being parented” by my grown children, I wrestled with my own irksome decision to intervene in my mother’s life, keeping the promise I made to my father to “take care of your mama.”

If I think I am self-sufficient and strong-willed, I am but a faint shadow of my mother’s iron will and independence.

She insisted on living on her own and staying in her home well into her 80’s and managing her own finances…as was her right, so long as she was capable of sound decisions and in no danger of bodily harm.

Taught to “honor thy father and mother,” I agonized over when to step in, until the decision became an absolute necessity.

Even then, I treated her with respect, when I first took her car keys, enduring her multiple angry phone calls every day, for days on end, and eventually–after her broken hip–transitioning her into assisted living.

These sorts of changes are inevitable. Life marches on, sometimes slogging through mud, sometimes hurtling forward.

Chafing against “trading places” causes unnecessary friction.

When it is time for roles to reverse, remember these words in Romans 12:10.

Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honor preferring one another.  

That is: “outdo” each other in giving honor. It works both ways.

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Holly Bebernitz

Native Texan Holly Bebernitz moved to Jacksonville, Florida in 1967. After thirty years of teaching speech, English, and history on the secondary and college levels, she retired from classroom teaching to become a full-time grandmother. The change in schedule allowed the time needed to complete the novel she had begun writing in 1998. When Trevorode the Defender was published in March 2013, the author realized the story of the Magnolia Arms was not yet complete.