From Dr. Jane's Notebook
Life inside the "sandwich generation"
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 lucky enough to still have them 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 your parent”: first, talk with your mate because regardless of
which course of action you choose, you will need your mate’s emotional support
and understanding; second, have a heart-to-heart discussion with your parent(s)
about their needs and be sure to include your siblings; and third, don’t
become so eager to help that you try to take over! If your action is
misinterpreted as a power-grab or lack of respect, you may find yourself in
the middle of a power struggle.
- The value of guilt prevention. Those who become
involved in the day-to-day care of an aging parent must grow more, not less
patient. Hopefully, aging is a gentle process of slowing down and not an
abrupt surprise. When you are with your parent, practice slowing down, take a
deep breath, and enjoy your time together. Rather than trying to bring older
folks 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 may prevent guilt later on.
- Why guilty feelings are predictable. Eventually,
we will all die; death is normal, expected, and dreadful. Because death is so
final, it’s important to be intentional and whenever possible to say and do
the things that are important to us. Guilt results when we look back at lost
opportunities following the loss of a loved one. It is human nature to think
about things we should have done, should have said, should not have
done or said. It is easy to get caught up in an endless cycle of self-blame
and those who fall into this pit should seek professional counseling as soon
as possible. But to avoid such remorse, don’t procrastinate when it comes to
family relationships. If you’ve got something to say, say it today! Try not to
leave any unfinished business between you.
- One way to think about your parents’ needs is to put
yourself in their shoes. Think ahead some years and imagine yourself as a
senior citizen. 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? In your elder
years, what will you want from your children? You may need help from your
children which ranges anywhere from transportation, to housework,
companionship, to financial assistance, medical care, and someday, you may
even need to live with your children. Think about how you will want to be
treated. Then be sure and treat your parents with a little more gentleness,
love and respect starting today.
- Remember your good parenting skills. If you have
raised your own family, you have learned a lot over the years! As a parent,
you have learned the fine art of communication, problem-solving,
decision-making, boundary setting and other skills associated with raising
happy and healthy children. The good news is that you’ll need these same
skills when relating to your aging parents. You’ll have to remain flexible in
your plans, allow time during the day for naps (for both of you), take extra
care to control your temper, and be gentle in your physical handling of them.
Like children, elderly parents are fragile. My good friend, Carolyn, likes to
remind me of the saying, “we are once a grown-up, twice a child”.
With age and declining health,
human development moves in reverse. As a child, you may recall when Mom or Dad
took you to the doctor. Now, before you know it, it will be your turn to take
your parent by the hand and escort them to medical care. For many years, Mom or
Dad may have done the cooking, shopping for food, and remembered all of your
special occasions. Soon it may be your job to step up to the plate. 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, the day will come when it is your job to
repay this kindness.
©Copyright, 2009, Jane R. Rosen-Grandon. All rights reserved.
Return to Family Relations
Return to Table of Contents