Managing a Healthy Caregiving Relationship with Your Aging Parent
November 6, 2018
It is no secret. Being a caregiver for an aging parent is hard work. The role reversal that takes place in the “adult child-parent” relationship as parents age frequently makes the difficult job of caregiving all the more stressful for both parties.
Cynthia is in her mid-80s and still lives fairly independently at home not far from her son Eric’s home. Eric, Cynthia only child has taken on the role of primary caregiver. He keeps close tabs on his mom with the help of paid in-home caregivers who visit her three time a week to help tidy the house, ensure there is food in her fridge and remind her to take her medications.
Despite this well-working arrangement, as his mother’s caregiver, Eric has had to make some tough decisions to ensure Cynthia’s health, safety, and wellbeing. For instance, after a fender-bender, Cynthia no longer drives because Eric felt she didn’t see well enough to manage driving safely. Additionally, Eric cancelled her credit card account because Cynthia was using it recklessly, ordering various decorative items from television shopping shows and quickly draining her financial resources.
Although Eric’s motives were purely from the heart and with the best of intentions, these decisions were not well received by Cynthia. In fact, animosity has grown substantially between the two of them, with Eric feeling rather upset that his mother is not only unappreciative of his efforts to keep her safe and healthy, but downright angry with him.
Many would say that Eric and his mom are dealing with the expected symptoms related to their role reversal – that they have simply switched sides in the parent-child dynamic now that Eric is his mother’s caregiver, meaning that he has taken on the parental responsibility of caring for his parent as he might for his own child.
But, that isn’t exactly true. The change-up in their relationship is really much more complex.
First off, Eric’s mom isn’t like a child. Children are learning and maturing little people that can be reasonably expected to grow out of the dependency on their parents with each passing year. The same does not hold true for older people. Cynthia likely will continue to decline with age and eventually need more support, becoming less independent over time. Cynthia recognizes that point all too well and that is likely contributing greatly to her hostility towards Eric.
So, is caregiving for one’s aging parent doomed to be a bitter and emotionally draining experience? Hopefully not! To keep resentment at bay, there are things to be mindful of to establish a healthy and successful caregiving relationship with your elderly parent:
Change Your Mind-Set: When serving as your parent’s caregiver, keep in mind that you are not “parenting” your parent. Instead, your primary goal is to help your parent deal effectively with the changes they are experiencing as they age.
Be Honest …and Respectful: There is nothing to be gained by pretending you don’t notice changes in your parent’s health and wellbeing. Speak honestly and respectfully with them about any worries you may have about their health and safety. As your parent learns to accept any limitations brought on by aging, they will need to ask for support from you with the same honesty. Work to establish a respectful tone with your parent about these matters, so that going forward, you can together assess your parent’s overall wellbeing and look for warning signs of any emerging problems.
Don’t Over-Rescue: Your elderly parent will be stronger if you allow them to do as much for themselves as they still can. Your parent’s role should not be to become overly dependent on you, while your goal should be to help them take full responsibility for themselves by acknowledging when they need help and providing help when needed.
Manage Your Stress: Don’t let stress interfere with your ability to appropriately and compassionately care for your aging parent. Easier said than done, for sure! Removing unnecessary stress is critically important for the wellbeing of both you and your parent. The stress of caregiving may be getting to you if you find yourself making judgmental or patronizing remarks to your parent, such as “you could do this by yourself,” “you’re just not trying” or “let’s see if we can put our own clothes on today.” It is crucial that you find effective ways to manage your stress before it gets in the way of maintaining a positive relationship.
Get Some Help: You may be the designated primary caregiver for your parent, but you simply can’t do it all. You just can’t. Many caregivers start by asking siblings and family members for help, but give up when these folks won’t make the commitment to assist. Don’t give up! Investigate resources in your community to find alternative support options, including respite stays at area senior care centers or help from a reputable home care agency that will send trained caregivers to your parent’s home.
Take Care of You: Help with your caregiving duties is essential, but so is taking care of yourself. Make rest, a healthy diet and exercise a priority. Even a daily 20-minute walk can substantially relieve personal stress. If it gets to be too much, you might consider consulting with others for support and a new perspective on your situation. Although family or friends might prove to be great sounding boards, don’t discount the skills of a professional counselor.
Relationships change over time and the one you have with your elderly parent when you begin caregiving for them will surely change, too. Your attitude is key to leading this new relationship on a positive and proactive path as you begin this journey together. By keeping acceptance, honesty, and faith in one another at the center of the relationship, you and your parent have an excellent chance of managing and adapting to your new roles with one another.
Jennifer Bailey is the Marketing and Communications Manager at Martha & Mary, a non-profit care organization that has been serving children, seniors and families since 1891.
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