Caring for aging parents is not easy, but if we can identify what makes this role reversal so challenging, maybe we can begin to find ways to cope with the change.
Cultural & Family Pressures
I frequently hear: “it’s just what we do” or “we care for our own” when discussing a person’s feelings about becoming the primary caretaker for dependent parents. When we’ve witnessed our parents, neighborhood, community, and larger culture caring for the elderly, it seems like the only thing to do, right? But alongside that comes the misconception that you must do it alone, without professional help, or by another person’s standards. This is not true!
If it is part of your family history and identity to care for the older generations and that resonates with you, then stick with it! But remember it’s also okay to feel ambivalent or angry sometimes–or a lot of times depending upon your circumstances.
Seek help before it all becomes too much. If you have siblings, hold them accountable for their part in providing care. This may mean you each choose an aspect of care for which you’ll be responsible. When help doesn’t come from your family, lean on close friends for support. And finally, don’t be afraid to reach out to healthcare professionals. They are highly skilled and trained to help you through this transition. You do not have to go it alone.
People often use their parents’ lives as a template for how they expect their own future to go. But when you see the health of elderly parents declining, two startling facts become overwhelmingly clear: your parents are mortal, and so are you. You may find yourself preoccupied with questions about the future and overwhelmed with the unknown.
Find solace in being present in the moment. Take deep breaths, feel the weight of your clothing against your skin, and listen to the movement around you. Remind yourself that you are alive; let go of the past and the future, if only for five minutes at a time.
You may want to consider consulting with a religious or spiritual leader or a mental health professional if the thoughts and questions about death become intrusive.
The interactions between parent and child are one of the first ways a person begins to understand who he or she is within the context of a relationship. When a parent becomes dependent, we must shift who we are in relation to them. This can be a major source of tension if the parent has always been a source of guidance and support and are no longer able to fulfill that role to the same extent.
Your parent is likely still wishing for independence and struggling to deal with aging and the new limitations it imposes. They may feel angry, fearful, and frustrated; and it’s possible they may take those things out on you. Remember your parent is a complex person dealing with a difficult situation–similarly to you. Try to exercise understanding and be patient with yourself and them.
Financial burden, unfortunate events, the inability to take breaks, a loss of control, and conflict with the many different roles you play all contribute to emotional strain. Add to that the things discussed above, and it’s no wonder caregivers face an increased risk for depression, loneliness, stress, and anxiety.
Taking on responsibility for one’s parents is one of the most complicated transitions in life; because of this, it’s crucial that you do not forget to care for yourself!
Eat well, exercise, address your own health concerns. Engage as much support as possible so that you are able to give back to yourself. I know, when you’re already overwhelmed and feel like you’re sinking, self-care feels like another thing to add to the impossibly long list of things to do; but it’s worth it, and it’s a must! Taking good care of yourself increases energy, decreases stress, and leaves you better able to handle life’s challenges as they come.
Are you the primary care provider for an aging parent? Has the pressure from this role reversal become too much for you to handle alone? Let the counseling professionals at The Stone Foundation be of support to you and your loved one as you navigate this difficult time. Visit us online at www.thestonefoundation.com or call us at 410.296.2004. We are here to support you.
Please know that this article is intended for general, educational purposes only. This article, and others like it, should not and are not meant to take the place of professional counseling services or medical care.
Lauren Greenberg, MS, LGPC is a graduate of Loyola’s Counseling Practitioner Program. For three years, Lauren provided hotline crisis intervention to residents of Baltimore City. She also has experience providing counseling to students at a local college for issues including grief and loss, depression, substance abuse, self-harm, anxiety, and trauma. Her professional interests and areas of study include positive psychology, promoting social and emotional competence, and women’s issues.