Are You Caring for an Aging Parent?
We are all familiar with the Baby Boom era when after World War II Americans felt a sense of relief and went on an approximate 18-year-long trip to love land (I mean baby land). Out of that journey sprung 74.9-million babies that came to be known as Boomers.
Now, fast forward 60-plus years and our beloved soul-children, hippy-dippy-Boomer dudes have adult children of their own (Millennials). So our Boomers are grandparents and now they’re parenting their Silent Generation-parents. Herein lies an interesting dynamic in that our ageless (they thought) Boomers are fully grown and are faced with the interesting task of caring for their parents—folk that they knew would always be there for them.
So, what’s a Boomer to do when she/he becomes the parent, the caregiver, the provider, and the disciplinarian of her/his kids and parents?
My response: “The very same thing that you expected your parents to do back in the day:
-Be patient for it’s only a phase
-Be firm, boundaries are important for well being
-Allow for independence for a sense of personal agency
-Listen because everyone needs to be heard and feel heard
- Respect, this is no time for vengeance
Be patient for it’s only a phase (sound familiar?)
Patience might be the golden word for this point in both your lives. It simply means showing consideration of the senior’s need for care, additional assistance, and fears around needing these things. This is perhaps the last phase of your relationship with your parent(s). Find a way to parent with kindness.
Be Firm (loving discipline)
Your mom can’t cook like she used to; your dad can no longer mow the lawn. If you haven’t already, you most likely need to remove these tools from the premises. Believe me taking away their precious toys and the freedom that they represent will be difficult for you both, and it’s going to “hurt you more than it’s going to hurt them,” but you must be firm and stick to your word—safety first in this case. Be kind and do this gradually. Sort of like when you held on to a worn-out toy that had become dangerous to have as a toddler and then one day it was gone. After a period of mourning, you forgot about it and embraced a newfangled contraption and all was well with you. It’s the same thing, find an attractive substitute.
Allow for independence (personal autonomy)
You know from your teen years how important having some say-so in your life was. Now consider that your parents have been large and in charge for over 65-years. Recognize and respect this important fact: independence is next to God! Neither of them will be letting go of this without a Patrick Henry fight! So, compromise on what either of them can reasonably do, without self or other harm. This conversation may require a referee. Please wear your “I’ve been there before” hat. Don’t forget to be patient.
Listen (They have lots to say)
Listen, your parents most likely will want to talk waaaaaay more than listen. In fact, many of them probably can’t hear you anyway due to loss of or diminishing hearing. And, some may purposely remove their aids so that they cannot hear you. This means that you have to use patience (there’s that word again) and just listen. They are not at all interested in what you think. They are at a point in their lives where they have things to say, perhaps, that may have gone unsaid for far too long. They know that there are but a few years in front of them, so let them talk. And while they are talking—listen. And ask relevant, curious, non-judgmental questions that signal that you are truly interested in listening. This may be the greatest gift you can give to a member of the Silent Generation, so let them talk and “listen-up!”
Boomer parents were raised on “r-e-s-p-e-c-t.” The mantra of their childhood was that children were to respect their elders. It was a time when having respectful children was a badge of honor. So, the way you “honor thy mother and thy father” at this stage of life is by realizing that they are living the final chapter of their stories and that being considerate of the values that shaped their lives is the ultimate respect. This is not the time to retrain set-in-their-ways adults, but a time to honor your parents with your patience, love, attention, and above all, respect.
Here's to YOUR health
This section probably deserves its own separate space, but I'll share just a simple note on your behalf. If your parent is still living and needs your help—give it. However, you must be a wise caregiver and know that your parent still has some abilities so that you don't become burned out and worse, become resentful. So, consider the following:
1) Get a sitter you can trust to take over some of your duties. Do not, in the name of guilt, stop caring for yourself.
2) Consider having friends over if you don't want to leave the house on those days. Your mom and/or dad will love having wholesome noise in the house.
3) Beware of the guilt-trips that may be looming within you and from your parent(s). Be firm but respectful.
4) Remind your parent(s) that you love them and then go out and enjoy yourself.
5) Have a sense of humor in all of this— it will get you through when nothing else will.
Because Boomers were the largest subset of the American population (before their children and/or grand-children grabbed the torch and took off), there are now innumerable organizations and resources available to assist the group as they make this transition to adult caregivers. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) is a helpful starting place to connect to the wealth of information available.