Child to Caregiver: What can you do about role reversal?

There will come a point in time when a child stops becoming a child and becomes a caregiver for their elderly parents instead. Termed as the  role reversal ’, this process is often emotionally challenging for both the child and the parent.


The concept “sandwich generation” has been increasingly used and understood as people aged 30-55 who are caring for both their children and their elderly parents. Our parents cared for us when we were young, so it is only natural for us to want to care for them when they are old. However, the role of being a caregiver can be tough. There aren’t enough resources out there to teach us how to care for our parents, while there is a multitude of resources teaching us parenting 101 for children.

If you’re just starting your caregiving journey, this article might be useful for you.

The most challenging part is when our parents refuse to accept our help for the sake of their pride, dignity and independence. Trapped between having to fulfill our duties as children to care for our parents, and persuading them to trust and depend on us, we start to realise that we are less than equipped to handle role reversal.


However, while parent-child relationships do change over time, managing role reversal need not be difficult. Here are warning signs of unhealthy role reversal, and If you find some of those points familiar, do follow the tips below to help you in managing role reversal while caring for your elderly parents.


5 Signs of unhealthy role reversal

  1. When you find yourself talking in a condescending or patronising manner such as: “Yes, you are the best parent, I am the worst child…”
  2. You find yourself trying to make your parents feel bad that they have to depend on you to care for them now like: “I have to do everything for you now, even having to help you bathe…”
  3. You make demeaning comments to your parents and making them feel inferior and burdensome like: “You are so old and slow in doing everything…”
  4. You make decisions concerning your parents without consulting with them first because you feel like their opinions do not matter, like making a decision regarding their health matters privately with the physician.
  5. You find yourself increasingly impatient and snapping at your parents.


3 tips to managing role reversal while caring for your ageing parents

  1. Open communication is key

The psychological impact of role reversals is real. For some children, they have never experienced their parents being so vulnerable and entirely dependant on others for the simplest everyday tasks like bathing or eating before. For the parents, many feel like burdens on their child, drastically reducing their self-esteem and self-worth.

Therefore, it is critical for both parties to accept the situation and be honest in how they feel while communicating exactly what they need openly to each other. Being frank in communicating areas which we need help in can aid in building a healthy relationship based on respect and mutual understanding for both parties.


  1. Respect your parents’ desires

As a caregiver to your parents, you are now the decision maker, put in charge of handing their lives from helping them get medical attention, to managing their finances and estate issues. It helps to try and place yourselves in their shoes. Understand that relishing authority and control over their lives to someone they have been caring for all their lives previously can be emotionally straining. So, do respect their thoughts and desires as well.

For example, there might be some habits that are harder to break. Instead of forcing control over your loved ones, talking about it openly with your parents can be a more effective way.


  1. Be patient

Lastly, be patient. Building a mutually respecting relationship is key to sustaining role reversal. Raising your voice or expressing frustration rudely at your parents is futile. It will only make them more resistant to your help because they feel more burdensome. Instead, try calmly talking to your parents and engage in an open communication between both parties to iron out any kind of misunderstandings.

If our parents could deal with our constant crying and repetitive questions when we were young, we can also love them like how they loved us.

It is normal to get frustrated sometimes when caregiving becomes overwhelming as you try to juggle between all your other commitments like your job and personal life. However, a Chinese idiom commonly used: “饮水思源“, tells us to always remember our roots and where we came from. Our parents did not leave us when we were young, so we should not leave them when they are old.


If you’re getting increasingly frustrated with caring for your parents, it could also because of caregiver stress. In such cases, you need to arrest the situation before it becomes caregiver burnout. You can receive respite care by asking someone to take over your caregiving duties while you refresh your mind.