Caring for Parents: It's a New Role, Not Reversed Roles
As an adult child, it can be challenging to know when, and how, to step in and become more involved in your parent’s care.
Put simply, when you notice your parent struggling, they could benefit from more support. This is the time to think differently about your relationship with that parent and how you would like to step into a new role as their caregiver.
What You Need to Know About Aging
We have to recognize the aging process is filled with losses – loss of identity and self-worth. These losses can be connected to who they were when they were raising a family and working on their career, loss of friends, and, especially poignant, the loss of their physical and mental capabilities. To your parent, each loss may feel like another layer stripped away of their ‘own self’.
Most of the time our older loved ones know when their cognitive and physical abilities are waning and realize that they will have to rely on someone else to help manage their daily needs. This realization can bring a flood of emotions – anger, denial, resentment – and it can all be focused on you and your role. Knowing that accepting help is the right thing to do doesn’t make it easier.
8 Steps for Caregivers to Ensure Everyone's Needs Are Met
Stepping into a caregiver role could present challenges. For example, your loved one may see your support as an invasion of their privacy or they may blame you for taking away their independence becoming even more stubborn and refuse your help. Remember there's a fine line to walk and you choose how to step into this role. These eight steps can help prevent heated discussions and ensure everyone's needs are met.
1. Be mindful of your words.
We need to communicate with caution. Using words like “parenting my parents” or “our roles are reversed” have a demeaning tone. We are not becoming their parent, we are taking on a new role in both of our lives as their caregiver. Our parents will always be our parents and we will always be their sons or daughters.
2. Be open and honest.
Acknowledge that change is hard… for everyone involved. Your new role as caregiver and your parent’s role as care receiver are going to take time to adjust. Share your feelings and concerns and encourage them to do the same. Being able to talk things out with a cool head can keep emotions from getting in the way. Start having the ‘important conversations’ sooner rather than later.
3. Treat your parent as you would like to be treated: with compassion, empathy and respect.
Keep this mantra running through your head. You will be continually challenged.
4. Be your parent's advocate.
Keep reassuring them that you will be there for them and have their best interest at heart. When feasible, give your loved one some control in all decisions. Provide them with as many options as possible and ask for their input regarding their care. And to the best of your ability, try to honor their wishes.
5. Define your boundaries.
Maintaining your parent’s dignity and providing them a sense of privacy is forefront in building trust and acceptance. Let your parent know what your boundaries are, no matter how awkward the conversation might be. Not everyone is comfortable with being a caregiver. You can only do what you are able to do.
6. Learn as much as you can about your parent’s condition.
Knowledge is power! Educating yourself on their condition and how it will impact both you and your parents gives you some control over the situation and a confidence to make informed decisions about your parent’s future.
7. Don’t go it alone.
Identify a family member, friend, support group or professional that you can talk to or confide in. No one is expected to have all the answers. Consider getting help sooner rather than later. Consider working with an elder law attorney to provide guidance on long term care and estate planning, a geriatric care manager to assess the situation and make recommendations for current and future needs, or even an in-home companion to help with day to day care. Suggestions from an ‘outsider’ will usually have less ‘push back’ and more ‘traction’ than suggestions from family.
8. Allow time for self-care…. it’s not selfish.
Taking care of your physical, mental, physical and spiritual needs is vital when you are caring for someone else. Making time for you is not selfish…. it’s essential! If you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t have the energy to care for someone else.
New Roles Take Time
You want to do the right thing, you want to make sure your loved one is safe, and that their current and future needs are being met. But being a caregiver for a parent is hard work. You need time to get accustomed to your new role. You know that there will be times of frustration and exhaustion. But with communication, knowledge and support, caring for an aging parent can build a stronger bond between caregiver and care receiver.