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Role reversals: 5 things to consider

The role-reversal that comes with assisting an aging parent is sometimes shocking to both children and mum or dad and can result in confusion, friction and sadness. The parents have been adults for decades now and may resent their child making decisions, or disagree on suggestions.

Adult children should consider several things before taking on the role.

1) Keep the lines of communication open
Older parents may find it difficult and embarrassing to ask for assistance from their own children. What once was a simple task is no longer easy, and the frustration in no longer being able to manage the chore can make the parent angry, secretive or even awkward. At other times, the parent may not remember to take their medication or they refuse to take it. At times like these, slow things down and be patient, pick the right time to discuss, or drop it and try later.

2) Allow yourself to “mourn” the loss of the traditional roles
While the parent has not passed away, their roles as the family leaders have been diminished. This can cause a sense of loss in the adult child that is as strong as the loss of a parent. Take time to mourn the role-reversal and allow yourself to grieve in the process. Seek out other adult children who are also experiencing the same changes in their relationships with their parents and discuss these feelings of loss and chaos.

3) Get support
Adult children who care for their parents should maintain relationships with others who are in similar situations. Finding a group or even just another family who understands how difficult it is to transition from the role of child to “parent” helps. Offering each other advice and tips on care can ease the burden of such a major change.

Caregiving children should also remember to set time aside for themselves. Asking another family member or hiring a professional caregiver to come in on occasion provides relief and respite. Sometimes recharging one’s batteries is necessary for good mental health.

4) Don’t set unreasonable expectations
Realize that your parent is no longer as mobile and may have issues that have diminished their ability to make even minor decisions, and adjust accordingly. Consult doctors and therapists to determine the limits of their abilities and realize that sometimes letting go also applies to one’s own expectations.

Another thing to remember is that your parent is not a child. Don’t give them orders. Again, include them in any decision-making.

5) Set boundaries
If there are tasks that the adult child or the parent are uncomfortable performing together, like bathing, for example, it may be time to seek outside help just for those chores. If that is not an option, many senior groups and community organizations provide training and tips on how to overcome embarrassments that arise when the adult child must assist in the bathroom.

Also remember that order and routine are comforting to people who are undergoing big changes in their lives. Setting a daily schedule and keeping to it as much as possible will help in the transition. The parent knows what to expect and the adult child can prepare for daily events.

Caregiving for a parent is certainly a challenge, but it can also be joyful. Time spent together and building a bond over new roles can strengthen relationships and celebrate time together.

Carol Nelson​, RN, BSN, MBA, is a Healthcare Solutions​ Manager with more than 35 years of experience ​in homecare services, ​​hospice​ and palliative care, and​ assisted ​living​ management.

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