It’s tough to watch our parents age. The team that was once our rock, support, guidance, and role models will at some point need help transitioning to a life where they cannot be as independent as they once were. Your parents will need your help and support, of that you can be sure, but how do you take on this new role without impacting boundaries or the parent/child relationship?
Understand Limitations—Do you understand the limitations your parents experience? Many of us are mindful of this, but when it comes time to actually deal with the limitations, it can be difficult. Many older adults need to have things repeated several times, either because of hearing issues or slower cognition brought on by aging. In addition, many will try to assert their independence and do things “as they have for years” without realizing they physically cannot continue like they did before. This can lead to a lot of tension and conflict. These limitations can be frustrating for any individual as they transition from one phase of their life to another.
Help Them Without Being Overbearing—Something important to remember is that they are still adults and are ultimately responsible for their own decisions. If they choose to remain in their familial home instead of a nursing facility, it is better to not try to force the issue. (Obviously, if there is something physically or cognitively wrong with them so that they cannot be trusted to make this kind of decision, then you may have to step in legally. But this should be a last resort, not a first one.) You should establish a relationship with your parents that allow you to offer advice they will listen to and trust. If you can convince them to listen to your opinions, then you can persuade them in a safer or healthier direction without forcing the issue.
Be Reassuring—We don’t normally like to think about it but it’s important to remember that our parents are scared. Scared of aging…scared of failing health…scared of dying. But they are also scared of losing their personal identities and the sense of who they are. That’s why you need to be as reassuring as possible. Remember that they were the ones who cared for you when you were scared and now you have to be there for them. With so much change being forced upon them, mostly without their input, they will need your support more than ever.
Helping out our aging parents can be difficult. But with love, patience, and understanding, it is possible to help them while also still respecting their boundaries. Remember that, even though they need more support than they did before, they are still grown adults and capable of making their own choices. At some point, you will be in their position so it might be beneficial to consider how you would want to be treated before charging in and taking over. A healthy respect for your parents is a key to joint decision-making that both parties can live with.