Parenting your parents

Elderly_521 (photo credit: Illustrative photo: MCT)
(photo credit: Illustrative photo: MCT)
Dear Dr. Batya,
I feel really squeezed. I am involved in my children’s and grandchildren’s lives but at the same time am now witnessing end-of-life issues with my parents. They have been unwell, and are no longer easy to have around. They have become difficult and miserable, and I dread having to deal with them on a daily basis, but with my siblings far away, the burden falls on me. My family feels I have become unpleasant to be around. Please help. – R.S.
Sounds like you have no shortage of issues to contend with. Often we think that as we get older and our children become more independent, our life will become easier.
That said, as your parents age, you’re discovering things regarding your parents that you’ll all need to deal with. Taking into consideration any old unresolved issues in the family, your parents’ recent health problems, worries about their financial security and day-to-day living concerns, it’s easy to understand why you feel stressed.
My advice to you would be to attempt to determine and prioritize your greatest concerns and then work on each one as best as you can. You may have to accept that many issues may be out of your hands and others may not have an easy or any solution. This acknowledgment in itself may be very painful. Avoidance and denial may have helped everyone cope before, but perhaps now the day-to-day losses, both big and small, whether of health, loved ones, mobility, time or freedom, are more than either you or your parents envisioned. As you begin this difficult process, I suggest you actually take out pen and paper so that you can begin to see where your biggest challenges lie. You may find that you need to do this with a professional, as it may be difficult to be objective, being in the middle of it all yourself.
So, what are your parents’ physical and emotional needs, strengths and limitations, and what are yours and those of other family members? How well do they match up? How does everyone actually see the situation and all of the issues that go with it, and how does this compare with reality? Both of these are important to address, and yet may each be very different.
Which do you find more difficult to handle: the day-to-day aspects of life, or something more specific? If, for example, you are finding that endless hours are spent doing chores, are there tasks that can be delegated to others so you can spend more meaningful time with your parents? Do you perhaps find that you need a break or can’t do it all on your own? Do you need to involve your siblings in a more ongoing way in making decisions?
Are your parents physically active and living independently, or has the time come when they need more assistance with either help in their home or moving to assisted care? Are there chronic issues or medical challenges that need to be addressed? Are you satisfied with their medical care, and are your parents capable of making decisions?
How are your parents’ emotional needs being met? In what ways are they easy or difficult to be around, and what changes could be implemented to better meet everyone’s needs? Are they aware of your feelings and concerns? Can you hear theirs? Is there someone who can talk with them?
In what ways are you, as caregiver, able to look after yourself and give yourself a break? Do you make time for your friends and your children? Is there a way for your siblings to become more involved so you feel less burdened?
Finally, as your parents age, it is important to ensure that there is time for meaningful dialogue and closure and time for conversations where you both get to share your feelings and concerns. Can this happen – and if not, why?
What do your parents do that makes you smile? Have you told your parents how much you love them and heard that they love you? Have you dealt with anger or ill will? Have you made peace with each other – on your own or with outside help? Have you addressed their requests as they deal with end-of-life issues?
You’ll discover that I’ve raised more questions than I have answered. Watching your parents age is difficult. As children, we want our parents to live forever and always be in good health. The best we as children can do is to help them move on to this next stage with caring and dignity, while still looking after ourselves and our family. Some days it is easier to do this than others. Good luck with this very difficult task.
The writer is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Ra’anana. She works with children of all ages, adults, couples and families.