Caring for an aging parent can be emotionally draining. Both you and your parents may feel conflicting emotions toward each other, developed over the many years of your relationship. It takes care and sensitivity to navigate the caregiver-care-recipient relationship with your parents.
Despite the challenges, caring for your aging parent can become a source of healing and reconciliation for your family. Let’s explore how.
As adult children, we bring our childhood memories, sibling interactions, and family trauma into the caregiving relationship. These are some of the most common frustrations I hear from adult children:
It’s important to be aware of these internal struggles and conflicting emotions when caring for your aging parents.
You may feel guilty and brush these feelings away, or you might feel resentful towards your mom or dad for triggering these emotions. Instead, try validating your feelings and welcoming the message that your emotions are trying to convey. Your frustrations may be a sign that there are parts of you that need care and nurturing.
Be compassionate with your inner child and allow complex feelings to sink in. As an adult, you have the freedom and ability to process your emotions and make your own choices. You can choose to take care of yourself first. And you can choose to set boundaries so that you can care for loved ones without losing yourself.
It isn’t easy for our parents, either. Our aging parents also struggle with being vulnerable and trusting people in their circle of care. Having managed their own lives for so long, it can be scary or embarrassing to feel weak, fragile, or powerless. They may also worry about burdening you, knowing that you already have a busy life.
Caregiving is an intimate and delicate role. We may need to take over our parent’s finances when they cannot manage it, make difficult decisions with them — like whether or not they continue driving — or even help them to bathe. Both you and your parents may feel uncomfortable: you feel you’re intruding and they feel they’ve lost their privacy.
During this time of role transition, it’s important that your parents feel heard and respected. You may want to gently ask for their permission or preference before providing care or making a decision. Respectful communication can go a long way in building this new caregiving relationship with your parents.
When both sides feel vulnerable, stress and conflict may erupt. But if we and our parents can embrace this vulnerability, we open the door for connection, compassion, healing, and reconciliation.
Caregiving is all about relationships. As caregivers, we’re often so focused on the daily caregiving tasks that we forget to make time for self-care and building (or re-building) relationships. When we listen to what our body and mind need and nourish the different aspects of our lives, we can live more in the present and fully embrace our caregiving role.
Caring for an aging family member can bring the family together and invite scattered (or distant) siblings into sensitive conversations. You may need to discuss dad and mom’s financial issues, power of attorney, retirement or long-term care options, or end-of-life issues. When done right — and maybe with professional support — these difficult conversations can become precious moments to share feelings, support each other, and strengthen family relationships.
If you’re struggling with caring for an aging family member or need support with difficult conversations, Shift has some fantastic therapists. We also offer free events on various topics to guide you in your wellness journey.
If you’re not sure where to start, you can always reach out to our care team! We’re here seven days a week to match you with the right therapist so that it feels like you’re simply talking with a good friend.
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