Family Health

Parenting Your Parents During COVID-19? Stick it Out. Role Reversal Is Hard but Necessary

Published: May 12, 2020

Grandparents or not, I’m talking about the Baby Boomers and their fierce independence, go get ‘em attitudes and work-centric mindsets. It’s impossible to keep them down – even during the COVID-19 pandemic.


The Active Do-It-Yourselfers

This generation – the 60- to 75-year-olds – are so special and unique. They’re way more social and techy than their parents ever were. Many of them were hippies, and they witnessed some of those early major technological advancements. Because they were raised by the Silent Generation – with strict rules, strong worth ethic and limited resources – they’re incredibly self-sufficient and used to doing things for themselves.

When it comes to certain viruses and diseases, they have less fear than the Generation Xers and Millennials. They lived through certain micro-pandemics, such as smallpox, mumps and polio. To many of them, COVID-19 is just one more virus that has come and will go. Because they’re so active, they’re aging well. They forget or don’t realize that they’re at higher risk for suffering serious complications related to COVID-19 simply because of their age.

I can keep the 80- to 90-year-olds home. That’s no problem. But when it comes to stressing the importance of social distancing, I’ve found myself having to parent my Baby Boomer patients. And I can’t imagine it’s much different for many of you reading this.

The Pandemic Role Reversal

Roles have been reversed. Many 30- to 50-plus-year-olds are being challenged in ways they never were before. They’re trying to work from home while homeschooling multiple kids. And now, they’re keeping tabs on where their adult parents are going during the day and how many trips to the store they’re making. Remember: Baby Boomers are do-it-yourselfers. They’re not typically the ones accepting help to the car from grocery baggers, so they’re generally not on board with grocery delivery services either.

Tough love

Having to tell your parent or in-laws to not come over – not even for five minutes? That they can only talk to the grandkids via FaceTime because driveway hellos are too difficult for little ones to understand? That’s hard! That’s some tough love. But right now, it’s necessary.


There’s something to be said for instilling a little guilt in this generation. It works. They don’t want to bother or inconvenience anyone. But if they were to – heaven forbid – suffer serious complications from this virus, they know deep down it wouldn’t just inconvenience you. It would break you – and their grandkids you’re raising. I’m giving you permission to remind them of that.

Furthermore, and less heavy, social distancing only works when everyone participates. It’s like a lesson from kindergarten: Unless everyone gets in line, no one gets recess. And none of us are getting recess right now. It’s OK to tell them they’re part of the reason.

Mixed-Generation Households

Each time your parent leaves and enters their home, it’s no longer just about them. It’s about the people they live with and the people they come into contact with.

Maybe you live with your parents. You’ve done your part in keeping them safe, so it’s all the more important that they return the favor – especially if you have an underlying medical condition. It’s great that the young and healthy tend to do better with this disease, but as we’ve seen, that’s not always the case.

It’s important that you help your parents understand they’re not the only ones at risk. When it comes to COVID-19, everyone is. Let them know that their health and safety is important to you, but also remind them that this disease is so much bigger than just them.

Softening the Blow

Baby Boomers are fierce lovers. They unwaveringly defend and protect their own, and they fight for what they’ve worked hard for. To be told they can’t practice some of their independence is most difficult for them to accept. To be told they can’t be with the people they love is even harder.

Here are some tips to help ease the sadness and frustration they’re likely feeling right now:

  • Host a Zoom meal. And don’t stop there. Cook together, too. Drop off (or ship) ingredients to make the same pizzas your family will be making. Make it a date: Friday night at 6 p.m. Zoom the process of actually making the pizza together. They can ask their grandkids about the toppings they’re choosing. When it’s time to eat, the conversation will center on how yummy the pizza is and not on how much you miss each other.
  • Send homemade gifts. And let your parents do the same. Have your kids paint a picture of what they want to do with Grandma and Grandpa when they can see each other again. Frame it and drop it off on your parents’ porch or mail it to them. Don’t forget to include a couple containers of disinfecting wipes and maybe a few masks, especially if you know they’re sneaking out of the house more than weekly.
  • FaceTime. FaceTime. FaceTime. By now, young kids have likely learned and mastered FaceTime. Give them their own tablet (or give them access to yours) to call Grandma and Grandpa whenever they want. Your parents will probably welcome all the distraction.
  • Plan quality time together. If you live with your parents, go out of your way to plan cookouts, family game nights, weekend hikes or movies and s’mores by the fire. Start a garden together.
Lindsay Northam, MD, and her family share an Easter dinner via Zoom.

Baby Boomers appreciate honesty and clarity. They need to feel useful. Give them projects to do around the house, but stand firm in your expectations of them right now. You cannot give in – even when it’s hard. This is about protecting them. It’s about protecting you.

As heartbreaking as some of these quarantine requirements are, help them remember: It’s OK to not have that hug right now. And there will come a time when the hugs we share with loved ones are the best ones. The time we share together will not be taken for granted. This is a moment in time. We are going to get through this.

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About the Author

Dr. Lindsay Northam is very passionate about patient care. In order to deliver exceptional care for people, she believes it is important to form strong patient relationships.

Dr. Northam believes that all patients should leave her clinic at Methodist Physicians Clinic feeling they were truly heard and respected.

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