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Tips On... Successful "Parentcaring"

by Edyth Ann Knox
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Now I can hear each and every one of you say "What the heck is Parentcaring?" Let me explain: When our parents gave birth to us and raised us they exercized "Good Parenting" in the best ways they knew based on their upbringing and their situations as adults. When we grew up and married, we too (or at least many of us) had children and also became concerned with "Good Parenting."

The parental role they played changed over time. When we got older, we no longer had to call our parents to tell them we would be getting home late. We did not have to ask permission to change jobs, to become parents, or for any of the other minor or major decisions in our lives. Yet they remained our parents and we still made efforts to honor their wishes. We rewarded them with the role of "Grandparenting.”

For many of us, our parents have aged and are now in need of our assistance. Many have made the comment that "We now become our parent’s parent." Yet this statement is not really accurate. We are still the children and they are still the parents – our roles have not changed but the function within our roles has changed. As “Baby Boomers” and the “Sandwich Generation” we are increasingly assuming new “parentcaring” functions. Here are some insights to help adult children of aging parents to successfully make manage some common functional transitions:

1) Let go of your childhood fantasies of your parents: We all have said we have done that and at some level we have. However it is hard for us to think of our parents in human roles and functions. Some of us are even shocked if we discover our parents are still actively intimate. Somehow our childlike view of our parents being greater than human seems to live within us as we age and mature. You may even have to remind yourself over and over that "My parents are human and do all the human things everyone else does, have all the human feelings, and they are not invincible".

2) Remember that your parents will have a hard time not trying to fulfill that super human image: Our parents too will have difficulty letting us see them in a very human light. Even we as parents have difficulty with that with our own children. They have tried to set a good example for us all during our growing years, just as we do for our children. As parents it can be difficult to let our children help us especially in something as personal as in-home caregiving.

3) You are still always your parents’ child: Nothing will change that fact, not age or illness. No one or no thing can take that away from the parent or the child. We can never be a parent to our parent. Yet it can feel like that is what we are doing. Our functions towards our parents have changed, just like they have throughout our lives in so many other areas. These functions are often functions we thought we would never have to do with our parents, such as those that are very personal in nature (bathing and toileting) or ones that parents have always handled (finances or gardening).

4) You may have to step in if your parent becomes debilitated or dependent: This can be the hardest thing for an adult child to do. As a responsible adult, you may have to intercede with your parent and say “No!” if their driving becomes unsafe, if finances are being ruined, if the home is unsafe, or if they are affected with dementia. As an adult child, you may have to utilize a durable power of attorney, seek guardianship, remove cars or dangerous items, or even move a parent into a more appropriate living arrangement when they no longer can safely live alone. These are hard things that adult children often do: You need to realize that it is a part of your function as an adult child.

5) Getting involved when one parent is caring for the other: This presents many challenges and complicated emotions for the child who finds herself “in the middle.” You may be doubly confused about when and how to act. The caring parent (also referred to as the “wellspouse”) can often unintentionally make you feel unneeded or your attempts to help as unwanted. It is important to know your assistance and visits are important though implementing your actions can be difficult.

  • Often the wellspouse does not want to burden their offspring with their problems: This goes all the way back to when we were young children and the parents managed all family matters. It is difficult for most parents to see even their adult children as being able to help shoulder some of the family problems and that their parents are still very much part of their family. You need to communicate to the wellspouse that it is important to you as their child to contribute in some meaningful way.
  • Often the wellspouse is on an emotional roller coaster: The wellspouse can often feel as if they are failing when they are not able to manage it on their own. It is not the spouse that has failed but the disease that has caused a situation that they can not win alone. As adult children we need to support the wellspouse. We need to make sure the wellspouse is assured that they are not the ones that have failed if they need to ask for help.
  • The wellspouse needs respite: One of the most important ways you can help your parent is to make sure they get regular respite. Respite is one of the most vital ingredients to a caregiver mastering and succeeding. As a close family member, you can assist with respite by watching the effected parent or by helping provide a relief caregiver. Taking the wellspouse out for dinner or shopping is more than just a kind gesture. Paying for a weekend at a nice hotel with service and good food makes a wonderful and meaningful gift to your parents.
  • Open the lines of communication: We all need to work actively to keep lines of communication open with the wellspouse. Make sure that the communication is a two way street. That helps us to be more certain that the wellspouse will feel free to tell us when they need extra help and attention.
  • Visiting: You can’t underestimate the importance of paying regular visits to your parents. Ironically, it is visiting that most of us children feel most uncomfortable with. Many times we worry that our visiting, especially when we live at a distance and stay for more than a few hours, puts a heavier burden on the wellspouse. That doesn’t mean that you have to visit at every opportunity. Trying to understand our parents, the disease effecting them and the "normal" emotional roller coaster the wellspouse is going through can help us feel better about visiting. If you live at a distance and the visit is for an extended period of time it can be helpful to stay at a motel or other family member’s house so that you can spend time with the parents yet be able to leave when the visit gets to be too much. Regular telephone contacts are just as valuable. Remember to discuss things unrelated to your parent’s illness: share positive stories and conversation.
  • When the caring gets to be too much for the wellspouse: Many times the wellspouse will not see her health deteriorating and the toll that caring for her spouse has taken. Often the adult children see it first. You may find yourself in the position of having to tell the wellspouse that they have done all they can do and now it is time to allow a facility or others to take over some of the caring roles. Nothing is sadder to the children than to see this disease take on both parents. It is not uncommon for the health of the wellspouse to suffer or even for it to suffer to the point of the wellspouse passes first. You need to preserve the health and life of the parent that does not have the disease.

Additional Articles
Promises, Promises
- Transition Issues for the Elderly and Their Families
- Moving Your Elder in with You: Practical Tips & Suggestions
- The 11th Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Parent Thy Parent
- The Do's and Don'ts of Communicating With Aging Parents

Recommended Reading
Caregiving: The Spiritual Journey of Love, Loss and Renewal by Beth Witrogen McLeod
- Coping With Your Difficult Older Parent by Grace LeBow, et al.
- Caring for Yourself While Caring for Your Aging Parents by Claire Berman
- My Mother's Voice by Sally Callahan
- Respecting Your Limits When Caring for Aging Parents by Vivian Greenberg
- Reviews, interviews, excerpts, and chat transcripts for many of these books and authors are available in the ElderCare Bookstore

Related Websites
- The Wellspouse Foundation
- Children of Aging Parents

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