Learning to take care of aging parents is a big step along life’s developmental highway. As easy as it may be to help out a little, there comes a time when we must help out a lot. Accepting this responsibility is no small task. Inside each one of us, there may be a little kid who is jumping up and down shouting, “no, I can’t be this old…I’m not ready for all of this responsibility”. Hopefully, when we have recovered from the shock, we will realize that we only get to take care of our parents in their older years if we are still lucky enough to have them alive and in our lives. Here are a few more thoughts on the matter.
Discuss the current circumstances with your spouse and with your parent (s). When deciding how to approach the task of “parenting our parents”, a good start is to: (1) First talk about it with your mate… because whatever course of action you choose, you will need your mate’s emotional support and understanding; (2) Have a heart to heart discussion with your parent (and include your siblings) about what they need and want. We are cautioned not to make assumptions for others, and I caution you to join your parent in improving their lifestyle and level of assistance, but… don’t become eager to take over! This can be interpreted as a lack of respect for the Home Team.
The value of guilt prevention. As you become more involved in the day-to-day care of your aging parent, you must grow more, not less patient. Hopefully, when we’re older, the progressive slowing down of life’s busy pace will be gradual, not abrupt. When you are with your Parent, slow down, take a deep breath, and enjoy your time together. Rather than trying to bring them up to speed with your life, try to be more relaxed in your dealings with the elderly. Leave the franticness of life outside the door and avoid spreading negative emotional energy. When you are with your parent, spend more time listening and less time belly-aching. It will be good for both of you, and will prevent guilt later on.
The guilty feelings are predictable. Eventually, we all must die; death is normal, expected, and most of us hate the idea. Because death is so final, we must be careful about the decisions we make concerning our parents. Guilt results when we look back and feel “unfinished” or uncomfortable following the loss of a loved one. Once a loved one is gone, we sometimes think about things we should have done, should have said, should not have done or said. From here, an endless cycle of self-blame can develop. To avoid such remorse, don’t procrastinate when it comes to family relationships. If you’ve got something to say, say it today! Don’t go to bed angry. If you say things you may later regret, apologize immediately and realize that your parents will not always be here. You have NO RIGHT to mistreat or abuse them. Conversely, if you have treated your parents with love and respect, put your name of the list of “those who do not need to feel guilty” after this natural life event.
One way to think about your parents’ needs is to put yourself in their shoes. Think ahead 25 years or so and imagine how you want your life to be. In your elder years, what will you want from your children? Do you hope to be respected and treasured as a matriarch or patriarch? Do you want to feel appreciated and valued as a leader of the family? Will you want to be included and surrounded by family? What kinds of accommodations will you need? The help you’ll need may range anywhere from transportation, housework, and companionship, to financial assistance, medical care, or you may need to live with your children one day. Think about how you will want to be treated.
Brush up on your parenting skills. If you have raised your own family, you have learned a lot over the years! As a parent, hopefully you learned the best approaches to communication, decision-making, boundary setting, motivation, and other best ways to raise a healthy happy child. The good news about these skills is that these same skills will be helpful in relating to your aging parents. For example, many of us have learned the hard way, to remain flexible in your plans, allow time during the day for naps, take extra care to control your temper, and be gentle in your physical handling of others. Sadly, we have had to make legislation to protect both our children and the elderly from being abused.
My good friend, Carolyn, likes to remind me of the saying, “once a grown-up, twice a child”. With age and declining health, it is truly amazing to watch human development move in reverse. Once upon a time, you may remember how your Mom or Dad took you to the doctor; now it may be your turn to take your parent by the hand and escort them to medical care. Not too many years ago, you may remember Mom or Dad cooking for you, shopping for food, and cleaning the kitchen afterwards. Soon it may be your turn. If you notice that your parent seems to be losing weight or losing their appetites, step up to the plate and pay more attention to what they are eating, the condition of their kitchen, and maybe even their concerns about money for food and medicine. Finally, try to remember when you were young enough to be carried or pushed in a stroller. When we were young, we were slow, we had trouble controlling our bodily functions, we wore diapers for a long time, and we depended upon the kindness of others for our physical comfort. If you are lucky, a day will come when it is your job to repay this kindness.
©Copyright, 2004, Jane R. Rosen-Grandon. All rights reserved.
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