When Parents Become More Like Your Child
Not long after dad’s hospital release, he looked at me panicked and almost in tears. He could not remember if he had re-applied for the grant that paid for his macular degeneration shots. Seeing my strong father scared, overwhelmed and so quickly reduced to tears broke my heart.
Coping with Problems
At first I didn’t understand what was going on. I would get frustrated by what seemed to be a new negative attitude. I would get angry when my parents knew the repairman needed to be called, but did nothing. I came to understand that life was overwhelming for them. Dad was so focused on getting better that anything else was beyond him. Mom, unused to dealing with household problems, did not know where to start.
It is hard to watch your parents become nervous, scared or overwhelmed. It is natural as the child to feel sad and even angry. The foundation of your world is changing and it will never be the same. It is OK to mourn the loss of that old parent/child relationship. Bottom line is they can’t cope like they used to and wishing they could, getting angry or resentful doesn’t help.
As their child, it requires a delicate balance to help in a way that does not demean them or make them feel like your child. Asking the question “what do you want me to do?” helped us in some situations. At other times, offering several suggestions and making a decision as a family was the way to go. And in some cases, like the macular degeneration grant, telling dad “It’s OK, let me look in the files, call them and find out what’s going on” was the right thing to do.
Bottom line, when it came to their living and household decisions, being my parents partner and not acting like their parent worked for us. My parents still felt in control of their lives. That was important to them and important to me.
Be especially careful of treating your parent like a child if you become involved in their personal care routine. This is where I am still figuring out how to treat my mother as an adult. When I am her caregiver on weekends and holidays, it would be easy to fall into a “parental” role. After all, I find myself doing some things for mom that she did for me as a child. Initially it was embarrassing for both of us. But making a joke about it and then having a practical discussion helped. I needed to understand what it is she needed from me, where her personal (and my) boundaries are and how I could assist her in a way that was comfortable for us both. Now we have a routine down, but when I am tired, stressed, or on a time constraint, I can hear that parental tone in my voice as I help her. I know the words you use and tone of voice matters, so work hard at choosing them carefully.
In the book “Being Mortal” in chapter 4 on Assistance, author, Atul Gawande opened my eyes to how often concern for health and safety becomes the overriding factor in caregiving. These are important, but, I find myself thinking about ways to balance those with giving my mother the right and ability to direct her own life – something everyone needs at all stages.
- Researching the answer to a problem is most likely beyond your parents once their coping mechanisms are fragile. Doing the research for them, offering alternatives that recognize it is still their house/life and giving my opinion when asked for, worked for us. And if action is beyond them, doing it for them with permission, is the solution
- Do not take over answering questions for your parents. I wish I kept track of the amount of times a doctor/repairman/caregiver/agency addressed a question to me. Even when my parent(s) were sitting in the room. Did I have to repeat the question because they did not hear it? Usually. Did I tell the other person to please speak louder? Absolutely.
- Because of mom’s eyesight I find myself watching her struggle with things like a ketchup bottle. I have to be very careful not to say “let me do it” and take it away from her. Instead, I work hard to say “Mom can I help you? The ketchup is not coming out; it might need to be shaken.”
- There are many caring people in the field of home care that can take over those personal care routines you or your parent find embarrassing.
- Often it is the sheer lack of time that makes helping your parents difficult. Have a discussion with mom or dad and explore these resources:
- talk-early-talk-often.com: Children of aging parents becoming a partner not a parent
- almosthomeoutreach.org: Role Reversal – When Children Become Responsible for Parents
- agingcare.com: Switching Roles – Coping with Your Rebellious Aging Parent
- agingcare.com: Helping Aging Parents – Taking Charge Without Taking Over
- forbes.com: The Worst Advice For Family Caregivers – Parent Your Aging Parents
- “Being Mortal” by Atul Gawande. This thought provoking and emotional book is a must read for anyone that cares for an aging parent. Atul Gawande so clearly sees the good and the bad of our medical and health care systems: the places, people and the business we rely on for our aging loved ones. He brings to life the choices and decision points we will face through his empathetic stories of real people. Throughout the book I related what was being said many times to my father’s illness and death. Gawande helped me think about how I can handle my mother’s time differently. I wept at the end of this book as Atul Gawande took me through his father’s story. (Affiliated link: Being Mortal)
Disclaimer: The material in this blog is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace, nor does it replace, consulting with a physician, lawyer, accountant, financial planner or other qualified professional.