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Challenging Aging Parents

Are your aging parents driving you a little nuts? If so, you’re not alone. Whether we’re feeling loving or merely dutiful, we’re probably trying to do the right thing by them.  Let’s admit it: it can be really, really hard sometimes! A recent client told us that she doesn’t call her mom very often because she knows it’s going to be an hour before she can get off the phone. Sometimes she doesn’t have an hour, but she just wants to check in.  Now mom complains that her daughter never calls. Another person described how she had moved her mom here from another state to  live with her and her family.  But they just didn’t get along.  Two years, lots of family therapy and a brave decision later, she moved her mom into her own apartment nearby.  She sees her almost every day, but she just can’t share the same household with mom.  Everyone’s happier now, and she’s gotten over the guilt.
Maybe it’s those little quirks. Maybe a parent is always critical, or wants you to wait on him or is always complaining. Maybe your parent never thanks you for what you do to help. Whatever it may be, there a lots of very good reasons why adult kids choose not to have mom or dad move in with them. Perhaps you’re realizing that you are not cut out for caregiving.  Or perhaps you’re just worn out, but feel guilty if you do less. Here are some observations I’ve made, after many years of being a caregiver myself, and from hearing countless others in my work about the successes and failures of caring for mom or dad.


5 Tips for Success

First, we do have to put ourselves first sometimes.  What’s best for us, best for our own families and our own peace of mind must be a serious consideration.  Sacrificing our sanity for the sake of caregiving is not the best choice. Delegate and find others to help if having too much of the caregiver burden is getting you down.
Second, know our own limitations.  Caring for aging parents can become very time-consuming and emotionally wrenching as we watch our loved ones decline in health.  Trying to bravely go it alone, taking in an ailing parent, or assuming other large, long term chores is not for everyone.  It’s okay to say “no”.  Every adult child is not the same and many are simply unable to do a good job of being a primary caregiver.  Admitting this to ourselves is both healthy and necessary.
Third, forget trying for praise, appreciation or recognition of a caregiving job well done when our parent has dementia.  Our parent’s brain is not functioning normally with dementia.  The cognitive impairment may mean that he or she is unable to appreciate our efforts.  It may mean behavior changes, such as suspicion, accusations and nasty outbursts in our aging parent when that sort of thing didn’t happen before.  Do a good job for your own sake and because it’s right, not because you have to have your parent’s approval.
Fourth, we need to love ourselves for trying.  Our efforts may not always succeed. We may feel doubt about what we’re doing. We may feel guilty that we get mad at an aging parent who is so difficult.  But we keep trying to make life manageable, keep up their quality of life the best we can and go at it with sincere hearts.  We need to tell ourselves that we are brave and valued from within for forging on in the face of difficulty.  We need to appreciate our own efforts.
Finally, we need to take breaks.  We get so lost in caregiving, directing others, managing our own jobs, families and problems, we forget how much time we’re putting in. We forget to stop.  This is really important!  To nurture our own bodies and soothe our own spirits is the very thing that gives us the strength to carry on and keep it up.
Be very good to yourselves.  Honor your own heartfelt work of helping aging parents, especially the most difficult ones.  It takes a strong will to put up with the resistance difficult parents put up. I have difficult people in my life, too.  My Mom was mentally ill and the challenge to my strength and patience was there for years on end.  Another family member refuses help but is trying to be a part of my life.  We just keep going the best we can.  We back off when it’s too much and go at it again when the emotional strength is there. Regardless of the circumstances, our aging loved ones are a treasured resource who we will always keep in mind.  I think a client said it best:  “We keep doing whatever we can to make their lives as good as we’re able, so when they’re gone, we’ll have no regrets”.

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