Parents are there for us when we are young and vulnerable – teaching, guiding, protecting. But, there comes a time when we need to be there for them when they become vulnerable because of age or illness.
Over the years, I watched as my mom and dad declined in health and the ability to do things that were once easy. Finally, the day came when places would be switched – I would take on being a “parent” to my parents. If our parents live long enough, that will happen to all of us. As Laura Ray states in her article in Senior Matters, “Aging is a lesson in the art of losing. Slowly but surely, seniors say goodbye to their career, health, energy, mobility, friends, and independence.” This is hard on everyone, parents and their adult children.
Here are five things I learned about becoming a parent to my parents:
1. Be respectful of your parents and their dignity.
As parents get older, they may become stubborn and self-conscious that they cannot perform tasks that just came naturally – like parking the car, using the TV remote, changing a lightbulb, or getting dressed. Be respectful in the way you talk to your parents – not belittling or being put out that you must stop what you are doing and go to assist them. Ask God to help you have patience and empathy toward them. It is not easy or convenient and will take more emotional energy than you think you have as you adjust your life to make space for your parents. Pray for the right attitude, take a deep breath, and speak respectfully and calmly as you help them. Realize that just as you once relied on them for help, now they depend on you. The Lord is with you – even in the mundane task of fixing the TV remote for the 50th time, taking them to medical appointments, or picking up Depends at the store. God will provide you the grit, energy, and ability to give the care your parents once delivered to you.
2. Have difficult conversations
Difficult conversations are not fun. Helping a parent who can no longer live alone to see the need to move out of a house they have lived in for 30 or more years is not easy. Ask God’s guidance on how to have difficult conversations in a way that helps them see how making changes might be the best thing for all concerned. Losing independence concerning stuff like driving, choosing where to live, selling a beloved home affects one’s sense of who they are and self-worth—losing the ability to drive and do things when they want to go and do them is one of the most complex parts of “normal” life to give up. In the case of driving, rarely is “taking the keys” the best answer. Take time to explain why they need to stop driving. Let them know 1. You are concerned for their safety, 2. You are involved for the protection of others, and 3. there are ways to get to the store or hair appointment that can be done with the help of friends, family, and perhaps community services available that won’t disrupt their lives. Listen to their concerns, be firm but open to their ideas and help them make a decision that is best for everyone. A key is to help them see the need before it arrives – thus preparing them for the eventuality that may even help make it their idea.
3. Include your parents in holiday and family events
This may seem like a no-brainer, but it is easy for an aging parent to feel “left out” or forgotten about. Do what you can to include them in planning family events. Ensure they feel included during the event by asking them to take a role in decorating, cooking, or serving. Also,
4. Include your children as part of your “Parent care” plan
Children need to see how you take care of your parents. Take them with you and let them be part of the “Parent care” plan. One day they will be in your shoes – they need to see how you care for your parents. If you live long enough, they will become what you are to your parents. Your parents love you, but they most likely enjoy their grandchildren. If your parents live close by and your kids drive, ask them to regularly drop by and visit their grandparents. If your kids don’t know what to say, have them ask their grandparents about their lives – questions like “Where did you grow up?” “Tell me about your mom and dad.” “What was it like for you when you were my age?” “How did you and grandmother meet?” Most of our children know very little about their grandparents’ backgrounds. You might make a list of questions for them and let them ask a question or two each time they visit. If they don’t live close, use ZOOM, FaceTime, or other video call technology to have a “face to face” visit with grandkids.
5. Research services for older adults
Most communities have resources for the elderly. These can be super helpful to you and a blessing to your parents. The government sponsors some; non-profits/churches sponsor some. Some are for-profit – they each have their place. There are also many resources and services available to you as a caregiver. Here is a list of resources you may find helpful.
If you would like to learn more about this, please view this list of resources: