HARSH REALITIES – “PARENTING” OUR PARENTS CAN BE PAINFUL
On a typical day, I’m approached by three or four adult children of elderly parents. The children, who are usually in their 50’s or 60’s, are aware that their aging loved-ones need help. They recognize that daily visits from an in-home caregiver would be extremely beneficial. Help with daily living activities (bathing, dressing), medication reminders, meal preparation, light housekeeping and supervision, especially for parents with dementia, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease, is all readily available. Just pick up the phone and help is on the way. The hard part is convincing mom and dad to accept any help! The level of frustration and anxiety the children experience during this difficult time is palpable. They don’t know what to do…they don’t know where to turn.
Here is what we’ve learned from caring for over 600 clients - I hope it helps you!
1. When you were younger, your parents took care of you. They told you what you needed to wear when you went to school. If you were grumpy or sick, they took care of you. When you were a difficult teenager, they tuned you up. The problem is the parent/child paradigm doesn’t often change, gradually, over time. In many, if not most cases, adult children still feel the need to “defer” to their parents. Unfortunately, such deference can become harmful or even dangerous, once the aging parent has lost the ability to reason or function the way they once did. The roles are reversing, and your parents just aren’t aware of it. You may not be aware of it. But the harsh reality is that they are not in a position to lead the way anymore. It’s your turn. You will have to help them adjust to the new reality. In order for you to be able to do that, you will need to start adjusting first. That means you will have to step back, detach from all the legacy of hurt feelings, and take the lead. Not with a vengeance – but with love. In other words, do not spend time dwelling on how you want to convince them to accept your position. How you are right, and they are wrong, and I have been saying that for 30 years, blah, blah. That’s all noise and it’s that noise that stands between you and getting the right thing done with your parents. So let it go. Forgive. Adjust. They can’t. You are the driver. But don’t make it feel like a revolution. They need to feel like they can lean back into your arms, like you did with them, when you were sick or hurt at age three.
2. You need to stop taking what comes out of their mouth to be the absolute truth or fact. The true message comes from a combination of words, non-verbal expression, tone of voice, etc. You need to adjust. You need to slow down, pay attention, and notice the bigger picture. Once again, if you adjust to the idea that they are now more like young children than the authority figures from your past, you will be in a better position to understand what’s happening with them. Here is a hint. They are probably afraid. But they are in a bind, because they can’t let go of the appearance that they are in control. They can’t just drop all pretenses and tell you. They may not know it themselves. You need to reassure them. The last thing you want to do is make their fear worse. They need to feel your love. You need to be calm and patient. Try empathy. Empathy is hard when they make no sense, you are frustrated and exhausted, and getting further behind at work while you are sinking hours into being calm and understanding with them.
3. You have “arrived” when you hear them tell a friend that they know they can count on you. You know you’re missing the mark when you hear them complaining to friends and relatives that you’re trying to “put them away” or control their life.
That’s enough "preaching" for today. (Just call me "Reverend Ray") If this struck a cord with you, and you would like to talk about the unique challenges YOU are facing -- just give me a call.
All the best,
Ray Fitzgibbon, General Manager, SYNERGY HomeCare of Seattle, 206-420-4934