The American age dynamic has shifted. We are living longer and more adult children are planning their own retirement while having to think about their parents’ care needs and well being. The Family Caregiver estimates that the number of family caregivers will reach 37 million by 2050, an 85% increase over the year 2000. Today’s Boomers are faced with the unique challenge of caring for their aging parents. To complicate this role reversal, it is usually only one adult child who carries the load and more often it is the eldest child – typically the daughter.
It is a very real and challenging experience when parents begin to decline. The very people who gave you unconditional love and helped guide you through life’s learning curves are now in need of your support. Even with the best of intentions this role reversal, the need to now “parent your parents”, can be an emotional roller coaster for both you and them. Your parents have been independent for a long time. Realizing their limitations and accepting the support of others is not an easy endeavor. They may be angry or they may politely tell you and their well meaning doctor where to go and “please enjoy the trip”.
Accepting the decline of your loved ones can be sad and frustrating and leave you riddled with guilt. According to sageminder.com, there are ways to ensure that your new roles are headed in a healthy direction and that you are balancing your needs along with those of your parent(s):
– Have honest and respectful conversations with each other.
– Meet your own needs and say “no” in order to protect priorities you each have
– Have a deep respect for and realistic trust in one another
– Ask for help from each other and from others
– Take good care of yourselves…eat well, get plenty of sleep and exercise
– Avoid secrets and guilt trips.
Caring for aging parents is simply a relationship change. Without specific powers of attorney, adult children do not have any actual legal responsibility for their parents nor do they have the automatic authority that exists between parent and child. However the roles do evolve and aging parents may need their adult children in ways that are new to both parties such as a parent’s denial over a physical or mental decline versus your concern.
While this role reversal can be very demanding there are some ways to alleviate stress and help keep the peace. Good communication is a must. Speak honestly about concerns and listen carefully to one another. Assess the situation together and look for warning signs. It is easy to overlook gradual decline when you’re closely and emotionally involved. Include doctors by asking “is this normal?”. And keep in mind, this family time together may also provide opportunities for bonding and help create priceless memories for you both.