highs. If we’re lucky, our parents will get to enjoy their senior years with grace and contentment.
Unfortunately, longer lives also equate to an increasing number of health issues as well as the loss of some privileges we take for granted.
When aging parents need some extra support and assistance, the additional responsibility
often requires little extra time and effort at first. But the responsibilities can become more demanding as time goes on, eventually reaching the point at which we find ourselves assuming the role of our parents’ parent.
This role reversal is often an emotionally and physically demanding experience for
The initial problems are usually practical in nature. Can you take time off from work to
drive your mother to the doctor’s office? Can your husband take the kids to
school in the morning so you can make sure your parents have everything they
need for the day? Is there someone in the neighborhood you know who can look in
on them from time to time?
Of course, these problems are compounded if you fall within the so-called “sandwich
generation,” in which you not only find yourself parenting your parents but still have children of your own living at home as well.
Then, sometimes slowly and sometimes quickly, the emotional difficulties begin to
surface — feelings that result from the awareness of our parents’ mortality,
watching them suffer, and the problems that often arise when dealing with other
members of the family regarding these issues.
Coping with aging parents often leads to a multitude of feelings and reactions, including
stress, sadness, frustration, depression, anxiety, fear, anger, and even resentment. You may feel guilty or trapped juggling numerous responsibilities and demands.
If left unaddressed, these feelings can threaten your health, your marriage, your job,
your relationships with friends and family members, and your financial security.
So, what do you do?
Communication and Planning
The only away to avoid, or at least minimize, issues before they occur is to begin
communicating as early as possible. Ask your parents how they’d like to be cared
for if and when they’re no longer capable of taking care of themselves. Find out
what products they use, what they like to eat, whether they prefer showers or
baths, and even if they’d prefer to be cremated or buried.
Conversations about these and numerous other concerns should be had well before your parents are incapable of making these choices and before strong emotions can interfere with their decisions.
You also need to be conscious and considerate of the fact that your parents may not
welcome your help, or want it at all. For most of your life, your parents have been the authority figures in your life… they’ve been your parents. If you suddenly start
involving yourself in their affairs, you may find they don’t appreciate it.
For their sake and your own, the best, and sometimes the only, choice available is to make
sure your parents know you love them and are only concerned for their health and
Having siblings and others to help assist with logistics and go through the process can
provide a great deal of relief.
That having been said, while we’d all like help from our sisters, brothers and spouses, it’s
unlikely all family members will share the burdens equally. And, if one sibling finds that her or she is the predominant caregiver for aging parents, it’s likely to add tension to an already strained situation.
If you find you’re lacking a support network, or if your adult siblings disagree with you,
discourage you, undermine your efforts, resent your requests for help, or refuse
to provide care for your aging parents, finding a licensed counselor or therapist to work with can be extremely valuable.
A professional counselor or therapist who specializes in helping people cope with
aging parents can help you successfully adapt to and cope with your new role as
well as work with you to resolve problems you’re having coordinating care with
other family members.
Always remember, you’re not alone. These issues are becoming increasing common in our
society. If you feel like you need help, look for it and ask for it.
Regardless of the duration of the commitment required, the responsibilities of caring for
aging parents can cause a variety of issues for those who bear them and is
likely to change the roles, feelings, and responsibilities within your family.
It can be a confusing and complicated time for all involved.
If you’re struggling to care for aging, seeking professional counseling may be the best
thing you can do.
Counseling can help you resolve feelings of anger and guilt, work with your spouse to make
decisions about who does what, and navigate tensions that arise with siblings
about who provides care, how, and how often.
You’re not the first person to deal with aging parents and the feelings associated with
this challenging process, and you’re definitely not alone. Ask for help. If you
cannot get help from other family members, get it from anti-aging books, support
groups, a professional counselor, or anywhere else it’s available.
Developing successful strategies to deal with these changes will help both your parents and
you make this life transition with ease, grace, and most importantly, dignity.