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From Child to Caregiver: Joseph, Jacob, and You

01/05/2017 01:47:23 AM


Role reversal is one of the most challenging things that can happen in any relationship, but in particular in the relationship between parent and child.  How we handle that change makes all the difference.  This week’s portion offers an example of such a transition, and in the upcoming weeks, I’ll be co-teaching a class that provides practical guidance as to how to handle these transitions in our own family lives.
Parashat Vayigash includes a dramatic revelation and an emotional reunion, first between brothers and then between father and son.  Joseph, concealed as vizier of Egypt, reveals himself to his brothers.  He sends them back to Canaan to fetch father Jacob.  For the last 22 years, Jacob has been working under the assumption that Joseph is dead, and he is at first skeptical.  It is only when Jacob sees the wagons full of supplies Joseph has sent that he accepts the good news.  
When Jacob arrives in Egypt, there is a significant turning point in his life and autonomy.  While he had been in  Canaan, even though he relied on his sons (sending them to Egypt) he was the final decision maker.  He decided when and how they would go to Egypt.   With Joseph back in the picture, the dynamic changes.  Now, Joseph’s dream of family authority  comes true.  Joseph decides where Jacob and the rest of the family will live, determines how they will be supported.  He even controls social relationships by setting up Jacob’s meeting with Pharaoh. 
I can only imagine that this was bittersweet for Jacob.  On the one hand, he was blessed to find out that the son that he thought was dead was alive and successful.  On the other hand, his loss of autonomy may not sit well with him, and seems to have even caused a depression.   Jacob’s words after seeing Joseph are “now I can die” – there is nothing left to accomplish now that he is no longer the patriarch.  He tells Pharaoh “few and evil have been the days of my life.” Joseph had enough wisdom to save Egypt from famine.  Could he have done better in helping his father acclimate to the new dynamic?
Many families face similar challenges.   As parents age, they are faced with new challenges.  Children who are successful in their own lives may feel a sense of duty to care for parents, financially and otherwise, and parents may be grateful, but the role reversal can also lead to resentment, and add an additional level of stress to financial and medical decisions already fraught with complexity.
January 15 and 29th at 9:45 AM  I will be co-teaching a class, called “Navigating the Journey from Child to Caregiver” that seeks to help families wrestling with the same issues that Jacob and Joseph faced.   Jenifer Firestone (of Weinstein Hospice)  and I will be covering topics including, finding appropriate housing and care, end-of-life issues and advance directives, and managing the psychological effects of this transition on both parent and child. There is no charge, but please rsvp to

Fri, December 1 2023 18 Kislev 5784