Can You Teach An Old Dog New Tricks If The Dog Is One Of Your Parents?

Can You Teach An Old Dog New Tricks, If The Dog Is One Of Your Parents?

It was a Friday night like any other, meaning that I had no plans beyond my couch, my pajamas and whatever was on Investigation Discovery. As I walked in my front door to enjoy a thrilling evening alone, my cell phone made an unusual noise – it rang. Now, given that the only people that actually call me are my mother and my “friends” at Citibank, a sense of dread filled my chest. Now, I love my mother, but I prefer to talk to her during office hours when A.) I can beg off claiming that I have to go to a meeting, and B.) she calls my office phone, as that she believes calling my cell phone means she has to scream for the entire conversation, no matter how many times I tell her otherwise.

But, being the dutiful daughter (and her only child), I answered (after determining it was indeed dear old Mom as opposed to Rajash calling from India to remind me that my minimum payment was due). The conversation went a little something like this:


Hi, it’s Mom!

[Eye-roll. I know, I have caller ID] What’s up?

What are you doing tonight?

Nothing much. [Awaits lecture on how I need to be more social if I ever plan to get married and give her grandchildren because I am her only hope and I’m not getting any younger.]

Well, I was wondering if you wanted to go to the grocery store and help me pick out some healthier options? I’ll buy your groceries.

Now, this is a tempting offer. I actually like grocery shopping on a Friday night, when the store is devoid of people except for the random mom who managed to escape her children to do her shopping in peace and a few dudes in plaid flannel pants picking up the necessities for a weekend of playing video games. And who was I to turn down free food?

But the major lure was my mom asking for my help to get healthier. As you may know, I lost my dad a suddenly a few years ago to a heart attack, partially caused by his unhealthy food choices. And while I don’t blame him and my mother for my own food issues (I’m a grown adult who can make my own choices), I certainly learned the poor habits that led to my being overweight from them. In recent years, as I started my weight loss journey, despite the fact that I hate when people give me weight-loss advice, I poked at my mom a bit to improve her habits, too. After all, I was already down one parent and in no hurry to lose another, but she was pretty resistant to my healthy-food advances.

So this call was a small glimmer of hope that my mom may be willing to make some changes from her current diet of nutritionally-vacant crap. While my expectations weren’t particularly high – I’m relatively sure the woman loves ice cream more than she does me – I hoped that maybe we could make a few healthy changes that may make a difference.

That hope died a violent death in the bread aisle…which, at my grocery store, is right up front. About three minutes into our shopping trip, my mother added a package of white dinner rolls to her cart and the following exchange ensued:

What are those for?

Well, I need bread to go with my salad at lunch.

Actually, you don’t NEED bread to go with your salad.

Yes, I do.

Ok, fine. Then why don’t you try this whole wheat pita? That bread is an empty 200 calories, but this one has fiber and a few grams of protein.

I don’t like those, I like these.

And so on it went, her tossing things into the cart and my taking them out with an exasperated sigh or an under-the-breath “Why am I even here?” when she flat-out refused to swap out her full fat ice cream for frozen yogurt. I left the store with a bag full of paid-for fruit, veggies, and resentment, while Mom headed home with white bread, rocky road, and five pounds of potatoes.

Once I got home and calmed down by eating a box of Cheez-Its doing some yoga, I realized the whole scenario of the evening was really odd. Yes, it’s strange to be a grown-ass woman spending Friday night at the grocery store with your mother, but that’s not what I mean. Instead, I’m talking about being the child trying to teach your parent something.

But as odd as that is, it’s got to be even weirder to be the parent in this scenario. You’ve dedicated the last few decades to raising this child, educating him-or-her on the ins and outs of life, and now all of a sudden, the roles are reversed. Your child is trying to teach – or even worse, reteach – you something, and it feels unnatural to take instruction from this creature, who you have been the boss of for the majority of their life.

So maybe it really wasn’t about the dinner rolls or the ice cream. Maybe it was about the fact that change is scary, and, despite the fact that she had asked me for my help, change is even scarier when it’s your (semi)grown children trying help you make that change, because it signifies the beginning of a shift in the parent-child relationship to a period when both parties are adults with knowledge to share. A shift that will continue until the roles are completely reversed, and the child is in charge of the parent – an idea that absolutely scares the crap out of me, so I can only imagine how my mother feels.

So maybe next time, I can be a little more understanding, and let Mom have the dinner rolls. After all, once I put her in the nursing home, I’ll be able to make all of her decisions anyway.

Image via Shutterstock

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Jenna Crowley

Jenna used to be known as 2NOTBrokeGirls, but then one of the girls actually went broke, so she's struck out on her own. Jenna spends her free time saving the world, one sorority girl at a time (usually while wearing yoga pants), questioning why she decided to get a doctorate, documenting her love of all things cheese related, and hosting the new PGP podcast Don't Take It From Us. You can ask her anything you want about football, using your boobs to get what you want, and pizza at @JennaLCrowley on Twitter or via email at

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