How To Cope With Aging Parents
How To Cope With Aging Parents
Taking our parents for granted is something that comes naturally to us. No matter our relationship, we always assume that not only will they always be there, but that they’ll also stay just the same as they were when we were growing up. Obviously, we all change as we age, but our minds stubbornly insist all will always be well with Mom and Dad. However, the reality eventually hits when we have to face one of the most emotionally trying parts of life: watching our parents transition into the last stage of their lives.
First of all, it’s important to acknowledge that all parties are entering uncharted territory, and it’s important to be on the same page with your parent as much as possible. This may mean a change in the dynamic of your relationship; the role reversal of the child now taking care of the parent can be a difficult transition. Take this early period slowly and carefully. Listen to your parent as they begin to navigate what’s becoming their new normal as well. They’re bound to express anger and frustration as they accept a new normal. Try to remind yourself to be understanding about what must be scary and uncertain for them. Keep conversations brief, but cheerful. Distract your parent by asking them for advice about something in your life. Taking the focus of off themselves, even for brief conversations, can be a respite from what they’re dealing with, and a reminder that you still very much need them.
Movies and television have conditioned us all to believe that people facing the end of their lives suddenly open up emotionally and spiritually, wanting to repair any damaged relationships to achieve complete closure. This is not the case in real life, so try not to expect any big dramatic moments. Make sure to protect yourself emotionally as well; your parent indeed knows what buttons of yours to push, and may push them a little harder now. Try to stay focused on their day-to-day activities and needs, and allow things to flow naturally and organically.
Encouraging your parent to remain as autonomous as possible will bring all of you much-needed peace of mind. It’s important for your parent to feel that they still have control over their own life. Let them decide everything they can about their own care. Resist taking the wheel until your parent is no longer capable of doing so themself.
If you have siblings, be prepared for intense emotions, miscommunication, disagreements and the like. It’s an emotional time, and your childhood patterns will emerge. There may be fights over money, possessions, furniture, family heirlooms, etc. Do your best to not get yourself involved in those kinds of squabbles and keep your parent’s well-being your priority.
Adult children without siblings face different challenges in taking on the responsibility of aging parents. For those going it alone, your most important allies during this time will be your parents’ healthcare provider and anyone else who may be providing them with care. Physical therapists, nurses, doctors, home health aides — you will come to know them well and rely on them for emotional support. Their relationship with your parent is equally essential. Here at Greystone, our residents become our family.
If you have a spouse or significant other, be sure to remain connected with them as much as you can. They are there for you to lean on. It’s also possible your parent may be more comfortable relating to them than to you, because their emotional ties don’t run as deep. Your partner and your parents simply have a different dynamic and connection, which can work in your favor. Depend on them to be as involved as they want to be.
Finally, while you’re caring for your parent, be sure to administer a little self-care as well. Meditation and yoga can certainly aid with stress, or simply taking a walk or a jog can help clear your head. Listening to your favorite music always lifts the spirit, as does treating yourself to a good meal. Reach out to friends and meet for dinner, or at least coffee. Watch a funny movie; laughter is vital to getting through the toughest of times. There are also support groups, both online and in real life, for others living through the exact same thing. Having a safe space to express your feelings and frustrations will be vital to your emotional well being, and will help you maintain balance. Remember that you are not alone in your experience, and you have a support network in place for such a time as this.