Color & Control:

Taking charge: The joys, pitfalls and issues

Adult children often face different challenges than professional caregivers. Not only might they need to step in and advise on issues related to health and wellness but also take into consideration home maintenance, financial matters and driving safety concerns. 

This role-reversal is sometimes shocking, embarrassing and disappointing for both parties and can result in friction and difficult decision-making. Based on what I’ve learned, here’s some food for thought:

Allow yourself to “mourn” the loss
While the parent is still around, their traditional role as the elder leader has diminished. This can cause a sense of loss and sadness in both of you. 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. Consider a support group in person or online where you can discuss feelings and possible solutions with like-minded others.

Keep the lines of communication open
Your parents may find it uncomfortable to ask for assistance. What once was a simple task is no longer easy, and the frustration of longer being able to manage the chore can make the parent angry, depressed and/or seemingly un-cooperative. Safeguards such as medication reminders and home health care aides, although necessary, may initially be refused. Don’t rush. Recognize that adapting to these lifestyle changes may take time for both of you. Above all, stay patient and calm and communicate in a kind, understanding way that respects your parent’s wishes, choices and independence as much as possible.

Watch out for you
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 respite—a breath of fresh air and time to go out with friends or get pampered at a spa. Sometimes recharging one’s batteries is all that’s needed for a few hours will help both your physical and mental health.

Don’t set unreasonable expectations
Life is changing. Try to go with the flow. Realize that the parent who is no longer as mobile or quick as they were can still make daily choices. Frailty or illness doesn’t necessarily diminish their ability to make minor or even major decisions. You may not have to do it all and they may not want to give everything up. Compromise. Look for innovative solutions and try not to add additional pressure to the situation.

Another thing to remember is that your parent is not a child. Do your best not to give them orders unless their life is in danger.

Set boundaries and a routine
If there are tasks that you are uncomfortable performing together, like bathing, for example, it may be time to seek outside help. 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. It’s better when everyone knows what to expect. 

Caregiving for a parent is certainly a challenge, but it can also be joyful. Time spent together can create new memories, involve more close-knit connections with siblings, nieces, nephews, etc. and build a bond within your new roles can strengthen your relationship for years to come. 

Carol Nelson​, RN, BSN, MBA, is Healthcare Solutions​ Manager with a heart for service and a dedication to the health and well-being of older adults.

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