If we were to approach this in the manner of an accountant, with neat little columns and an unsentimental eye, you can see how the numbers don't really add up.
Column One: What your parents did for you.
Column Two: What you're now expected to do for your parents.
If you have the lousy lucky of having narcissistic parents, then Column One is a bit of a disappointment. The basics of child-rearing may have been covered, like food, shelter and clothes. The stuff other parents did for their kids you probably didn't get. In fact, you probably had to do stuff for them.
In my case, the roles somehow got switched around and I ended up taking care of my needy, childlike father...blah, blah, blah...and don't get me started on my self-absorbed mother who couldn't stay with me in the hospital when I was a kid and had a cancer-scare because it was too uncomfortable. (Plus, she was too upset and didn't I know what I was putting her through)
So basically, Column One is screwed up. Where there should be parental entries...hey!...there's your name instead! At the bottom of Column One, the parents are running a deficit.
Hop on over to Column Two...that's the really scary one. That's the column with just your name appearing and who knows how long those narcissistic parents are gonna last.
See, that's the dilemma, folks. No bank of goodwill to drawn upon in the tough times. No fond memories of mom sitting by your bedside reading a book to comfort you, no recollection of Dad saying something goofy yet strangely reassuring when your boyfriend broke up with you. No, nada, none. Didn't exist.
Yet, somehow, you're expected to jump up and say...yippee...I have no problem taking on the responsibility of caring for aging narcissistic parent(s)!
Let me be a warning to the rest of you. Although I wouldn't change what I've done, I have now entered my - GASP - seventeenth year of dealing with aging narcissistic parents. It started early in my case, as my mother developed early onset dementia...a decade before I even knew what the term "self-absorbed parent" meant.
This means my columns - technically speaking - are now "equal." My parents raised me to seventeen. I've been financially responsible for myself since then. If one thinks of this in terms of what "we owe" our parents...I'm clear!
I've now contributed seventeen years of my life to helping manage aging parents. I have never, except for a few days and it almost killed me, done the hard work of bathing, changing adult diapers or any of that stuff - so nobody gets the wrong idea - although I do order my father's incontinence gear from Sam's Club.
(Oh my gosh. Is there a link between narcissism and the later development of dementia?)
So it has gone, folks. Most of those years, by the way, were spent in the misery of ignorance...not knowing that my parents were narcissistic...rushing around in a frenzy trying to prove that I was the good, dutiful, perfect daughter...a walking, talking case of generalized anxiety, a raging hypochondriac with a taste for Xanax.
Back to those columns. They never have and never will add up. When other people - who have annoying parents or garden-variety dysfunctional parents - call you ungrateful or try to tell you that you OWE your parents your life because they fed you baby bottles or wiped your butt....fuck 'em. Seriously. Don't even try to argue. Nod your head. Then do your own thing. Do your best. Act as humanely and responsibly as you can. Plan. Anticipate. Use your leverage - you will have it if you're parents have pissed everybody else off and need you - to design a workable solution that may involve some tough decisions...as in our case...but it did work and I can at least have the satisfaction of knowing that my father is well cared for...even if I'm not doing it with my own little hands.