Caregiving for Aging Parents

Advice For Caregivers

Caregiving for Aging Parents

 

If you are in the age range where you find yourself caring for your children while at the same time helping with your aging parents, you probably are familiar with the term “sandwich generation.”

Even though the term “sandwich generation” is somewhat new, the idea behind it is as old as time. Some people throughout the centuries have found themselves caring for children at home while at the same time assisting a parent. Perhaps you remember this from your own youth. Do you remember when your mom took nightly meals over to your grandma, or when your dad took the car keys away from his dad?

The problem occurs when people think that the piece of bread on one half of the sandwich is the same as the piece of bread on the other side of the sandwich. Parenting and caring for an aging family member may, at times, feel similar. But at its heart, assisting a parent should have a different feel than parenting does.

First, we will discuss the similarities between parenting and helping an aging senior.

 

It’s challenging to find a balance between control and independence

Your 16-year-old daughter wants to drive by herself to a lousy neighborhood to volunteer at a homeless shelter. While you are proud that she wants to do community service, do you let her drive on her own?

Your 79-year-old mother thinks she is perfectly capable of driving herself to the grocery store, even though she had several fender-benders in the last month alone.

These scenarios may feel very similar. On the one hand, you want your daughter and your mom to be independent, but on the other hand, you worry about the consequences of being too lax. The main difference in this scenario is that you have a legal responsibility for your daughter, that you don’t have over your mom.

 

You often find yourself second-guessing if you are doing the best you can

Are you teaching your kids the necessary skills to be independent? Are they learning by your example how to be a good person?

Should you begin spending the night at your elderly father’s home to make sure he gets to bed OK and doesn’t hurt himself by falling during the night?

You want to be both a good parent and a good son or daughter. You want to be there for your kids to make home-cooked meals and offer advice. On the other hand, you feel pulled to spend time with your aging mom or dad. Where does your spouse fall into this scenario? Being part of the sandwich generation means that you are continually second-guessing yourself on how you spend your time.

 

You find yourself always hoping for the best

You hope that your college-age son will make the right decisions on his first year away from home and that your daughter will come out unscathed from the 9th-grade social scene.

At the same time, you hope that you won’t find your mom or dad on the floor when you visit.

Being a parent and a son or daughter of an aging parent means that you are constantly worrying. Your nights are spent awake as you play scenarios over in your mind. Your only relief is knowing that you are doing the best that you can.

Yes, parenting and caring for an aging mom or dad may feel similar at times. But at its core, assisting an aging parent is different than parenting your own children.

Here are some points to remember when you find yourself comparing these two different acts:

Your parents are adults

Your parents may have different abilities than they did ten years ago, but they are still adults. Adults deserve to be treated as such. This means they deserve to be spoken to like an adult instead of a toddler.

 

Your parents have been through experiences that you haven’t

You may feel that you know what is best for your parents, but at the same time, you haven’t had the same experiences as they have. You don’t know the full picture. You don’t know what they are experiencing or how they are feeling. None of us  know what it is like to be in our parents’ shoes.

 

Your parents have a right to make their own significant decisions

If your parents do not have dementia, Alzheimer’s, or mental illness, they have the right to make their own decisions about their living arrangements and their care. You may not agree with the choices your parents make, but they are adults and have that right.

Your children may also be going through experiences that you never had, and children deserve to be treated with respect, too. At the same time, we are the older adult in this scenario, and we have more validity for offering advice.

At times, parenting is hard. At times, assisting an older adult is hard. Instead of complaining about your difficulties, perhaps it would be better if we all viewed this time as a phase of life, similar to others we have been through.

You had other difficult times in your life. You have had heartbreaks and disappointments. You have suffered from people not treating you fairly. Potty training four-year-olds is not a walk in the park, and your children were all monsters when they were in eighth grade. But, you survived. Not every moment was great, and not every moment was terrible.

 

Members of the sandwich generation – keep your heads up!

Spending time with your parents feels completely different than it did ten years ago, but spending time with your kids ten years ago was completely different too. Things change. It’s a natural part of life.

Embrace this stage. Enjoy the peaceful time you spend with your aging father. Be on the other side of the door waiting when your teenage daughter decides to come out of her room. Don’t forget about your spouse, siblings, and friends.

You can’t change your situation in life. Just do the best you can.

 

Featured Image Credit: Stannah International / flickr