Lightening my parents' burdens

"Always read the fine print," my mum used to tell me. Now, there are days when she just can't.

Her failing eyesight reminds me, gently but insistently, of how the roles of caregiver and dependant between my mum and I are changing.

This is an age-old tale. But in the digital age, the role reversal between parents - who are finding it harder to see, to hear, to remember - and their children, at ease using the Internet, social media and the instantaneous demands of vastly changed society - is accelerated.

Try explaining these terms and concepts to your parents, as I have had to do for mine: Wi-Fi, mobile hotspot, hashtag, cloud, airplane mode.

I figured out all these on my own, like most millennials, without asking anyone or reading any manual. So explaining why just because you can't see the Wi-Fi doesn't mean it's not working feels like explaining why the sky is blue - I don't really know all the details, but it just is lah.

But digital definitions are just the tip of the iceberg.

Months ago, when I treated my parents to dinner, both of them misread the dollar sign on the receipt as "1". They thought the bill was $100 more than the actual sum shown. I thought they were joking.

Sure, I was glad the bill turned out to be cheaper than they thought. But, admittedly, I was worried.

Given their eyesight, what happens if they misread other bills? What if, despite being intelligent and having a sound mind, they get cheated one day because they misread some invoice?

Of course, I can't be there to read everything for them. And many times, my parents try to fix problems themselves before asking me for help.

Once, there was a problem with the Internet connection at home. Instead of bothering me, the daughter busy at work, they called a helpline for IT support.

They could barely hear and understand some of the IT jargon used by the support officer. They also had some difficulty reading the fine print when asked about the model numbers of the modem and router.

They could have called me first - I'd pick up their call faster than the IT officer, for sure - but they didn't want to bother me while I was in the office working the late shift that day.

Instead, they went through quite a lot of inconvenience, perhaps more than what they expected, to solve a problem themselves without troubling me.

I felt a little guilty. Was I spending too much time at work and not enough time at home? Was I too impatient in explaining IT concepts? Was that why they didn't call me?

When small inconveniences turn into bigger favours later on, will they try to bear the burden themselves too? How much should I offer to help? How much can I realistically help?

Once in a while, I ask my mum about her preferences on living arrangements in future, just to know what she wants her golden years to be like.

Like many elderly parents I've met in the course of my work as a social affairs journalist, my mum has said she does not want to be a burden to me, that she'd be happier that way.

Indeed, studies have shown that elderly people who receive social support such as money, food, clothing or help with household chores are not necessarily happier.

While their lives are made easier, they also feel less in control.

So instead of doing everything for her, I've tried to empower my mum - especially for the online world.

She now knows of other avenues she can turn to for help - GoThere.sg and StreetDirectory.com for directions, Google for shops' opening hours and almost everything else - and she introduces them to friends who ask her for help.

I've also become more patient in helping my parents with tasks they cannot or don't know how to do. Fewer favour requests annoy me.

I think I've grown to help with "lighter burdens", and will learn how to carry heavier ones in future.

As the roles of caregiver and dependant reverse, I hope my parents and I will learn to adjust to these roles.

I hope my parents will let me carry some burdens. Author and pastor John Piper once wrote: "It is not a struggle to carry a burden, but a struggle to let a burden be carried for us."

I hope I'll have the ability and willingness to carry them, whenever the need calls for it.

•#opinionoftheday is a new column for younger writers in the newsroom to write about issues that matter to them and their peers.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 05, 2017, with the headline 'Lightening my parents' burdens'. Print Edition | Subscribe