parenting and caring for your aging parents

Adult child: Effective communication is key

For those of us lucky enough to have parents well into their older years, we’re often faced with a delicate balancing act: the need to be helpful without being overbearing or over-protective of them.

For their part, some aging parents may need help based on physical or cognitive challenges – or both – but reject the idea and voice a strong desire to remain autonomous. They want to be cared about, but fear being cared for. This translates, for instance, into your father refusing to stop driving despite failing eyesight or frailty, or your mother rejecting the idea of having home-care support.

Nothing is more difficult than having a parent who refuses help that they clearly need. This is often the reasoning behind the well-meaning suggestion to downsize.

To understand the reasons behind some parent’s reluctance, open communication and patience during your many conversations are key. Ask open-ended questions and listen with empathy to begin to understand their reluctance: are they concerned about their privacy or the cost of extra care; or what is it about changing their living arrangements that frightens them; are they worried about losing independence or having a stranger in the house?

Knowing their fears and learning why they refuse help is fundamental to developing solutions that work for your parent/s and yourself as a caregiver.

Support for the caregiver

As well as supporting your parent/parents, you should be mindful of what you need yourself in terms of support, so that the situation doesn’t take a toll on your own health and wellbeing or that of the whole family. Don’t be afraid to reach out to others: siblings, your partner and your own children, and of course any professionals – a social worker, therapist, doctor or a priest/minister/rabbi. Often an objective third party can help you disentangle all the emotional issues and steer you towards more effective communications with your parent or better decision making.

Ultimately, I think many people would agree that caring for those who once cared for you can be difficult – stressful even – but it can be an honor. And as professionals, we can help you do the best you can in very challenging circumstances.

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