Role Reversal and Caring for Elderly Parents
For the first time in generations, we’re adding a new phase to family growth. While we in the West have traditionally seen family life as a top-down cycle, with parents giving priority to children, who give way to grandchildren, and so on, we’re now increasingly faced with the challenges of caring for our elderly parents. For many people this is unfamiliar territory. As a society, we haven’t yet developed familiar modes or scripts to fall back on, and we’re often left feeling as though we’re forging ahead blindly. The role reversal, from being cared-for to caregiving, can be particularly difficult. For those needing senior care, it can be troubling to accept a loss of independence. When children begin caregiving, the feeling of impotence, as elderly parents surrender their status as provider and leader, can cause serious rifts and emotional hardships. On the other hand, it’s just as difficult for someone, even a middle-aged adult, to take on a full caregiving role. Caregiving is a lot of work, and it’s ok to acknowledge that. It’s a delicate balancing act and, when you do find that balance, it won’t be long before a change in circumstances (a new medication, an injury, financial hardship, working with professional home care services, etc.) upsets that balance again and demands a new approach. With all of that said, caring for elderly parents can still be a rewarding, positive experience, and caregiving for senior parents can bring about richer, fuller family relationships. The role reversal that comes with senior care doesn’t need to be a difficult experience for either party. Here are a few things you can do, or a few questions you can ask, to help make the experience of role reversal be a smooth transition. Plan Ahead We all hope our loved ones will live long, full lives, but we rarely look at the realities that long life can bring. We can find it difficult to think about some of the more practical concerns. However, it’s always best to have a plan in place early. Getting the paperwork in order, making arrangements for Power of Attorney, talking about how your parents’ finances are structured and asking the hard questions now will pay off tenfold when you’re put into a caregiving role. And your elderly parents will feel a sense of control, putting their trust in you before they have begun to lose their independence. Communicate Caring for elderly parents should be a dialogue. Both parties should always feel free to express their needs, to voice their concerns, or to ask questions, and should trust that they’ll be listened to, or that they’ll get respectful answers. Many people won’t be accustomed to speaking openly, honestly, and frankly with their parents, and many elderly parents may not feel comfortable with their grown children in a position of authority. It may not come naturally at first, but it’s imperative that both parties practice strong, honest communication to help ease the transition into senior care. Don’t Fall Back on Parenting Behaviors It can be tempting to treat this experience as a simple inversion, like you’ve become the parent and they’ve become the ward, but that kind of paradigm misses the point. Those in need of home care services aren’t children, and trying to parent them robs them of the dignity that their lives have earned. It’s important to remember that, even as senior parents lose some of their abilities or faculties, they will remember having had them, and would resent the implication that they’ve somehow regressed. Rather, they’re growing into a new stage of their lives, and their experience deserves to be treated as such. Beyond that, a parenting mindset presents a conflict of interest. A parent expects to see a child grow, develop, and need less and less care and attention. A caregiver should expect to give progressively greater aid — the opposite of childrearing. Keep a Respectful Balance Still, though a caregiver should expect his or her role to gradually increase, it’s also important to know when to hold back. For instance, when caring for an elderly parent, it’s easy to overstep. You may have the urge to bring in more home care services than are required, or to check in daily when weekly visits would be enough. Even if a senior agrees that he or she needs a certain amount of help with some aspects of life, he or she may still value privacy or value the independence he or she is still capable of. You can damage a caregiving relationship by trying to give too much or too often, however kind your intentions. Watch for Warning Signs Caregiving can be a difficult process, both for you and for those in your care. It’s a stressful time, it’s hard work, and it’s often underscored by fears and uncertainties about the future. Caregiving for senior parents is a lot of pressure, and most caregivers will catch themselves starting to crack. Even minor comments can be hurtful or abusive. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but these are some of the more common warning signs to watch out for. 1. Trivializing or Infantilizing Comments “Oh dear, you’ve spilt it again… let me just clean that up for you…” 2. Guilt “I do so much for you, the least you could do is…” 3. Failure to Listen “No, you want to watch the other one; it’s really much better.” 4. Overuse of Financial Authority “Yes, I used your card to buy it. Sure, I asked you about it, you probably just don’t remember.” One good rule to follow is this: if you wouldn’t act a certain way towards your parents when they were at their prime, that action probably wouldn’t be appropriate while they’re in your care. Ask for Caregiving Help While it is understandable that you would want to take on a full-time caregiving role with your senior parents, the reality is that this isn’t always feasible. Know that it’s okay to ask for help. There are many types of caregiving services available, and the caregiving services at Alegre Home Care can be tailored to the specific needs of your situation. Having the assistance of a professional caregiver will help you maintain a positive relationship with your senior parents, will prevent you from being over-taxed, and will provide you with caregiving education so that you can provide the best care for your senior parents as possible. Let Your Relationship Evolve While it’s a stressful time, caring for a loved one is an intimate experience. Whatever sort of relationship you’ve had with them in the past, it will almost certainly grow and develop during the experience of caregiving. That can be a deeply rewarding process, and many people who’ve gone through this experience speak of learning more about their parents or seeing new sides of them. Making the most of the time you spend caring for your elderly parents can help you get to know your parents as friends or equals, as well as family, and you can take heart in knowing that you’ll have made yourself a new, distinct part of their lives as well.