Aging is inevitable. We will all be faced with it at some point in our life. But one of the hardest parts of getting older is dealing with aging parents. It is so difficult to think about the people who have cared for you your entire life, starting to need your help. The role reversal from parents caring for their child to adult children caring for their parents can be overwhelming and cause a feeling of deep sadness.
The other element at play is that their needs alone can be overwhelming and leave you frustrated. You probably have your own life that is full of challenges and time-consuming tasks. When your parents begin to depend on you, that adds to your already full plate and that can be very difficult. The important thing to know it that you are not alone. Most people will deal with this at some point and if you reach out to the people around you, you will find that you already know someone who is currently dealing with it, or has dealt with it.
Since you know this is something that will happen eventually, there are a few things you can do to prepare in advance. Most importantly, you need to have an open line of communication with your parents about several things. You need to know what their wishes are in regards to their health. It is important to know what kind of life-saving measures they are interested in and that they have made that clear in the proper paperwork. Find out if they have a living will. If not, encourage them to get that taken care of. And while you are on the topic of paperwork, make sure they have a will and have designated a power of attorney. All of this is important to have done before something happens, and they cannot make decisions anymore. Taking these steps will help make this complicated time of life a lot simpler.
When you find yourself in the position of your parents needing a caregiver, you will need to think about several things. First things first, you need to assess their needs. Whether they are physical needs or financial needs, you have to have a true understanding of the big picture before you can make decisions. You also need to access your ability to help. Then you will need to look at where you are in your own life and what the needs are so you can make a plan. Keep the communication open with your parents and work together to make a plan. It is so important to make sure they feel like a part of the conversation, but be prepared that you may have to be the voice of reason sometimes. If everyone is honest, it will make it easier to set up a plan that is realistic and where feelings are less likely to be hurt. This is really tough stuff sometimes. You want to make sure that you don’t commit to things you cannot provide and that your parents don’t have unrealistic expectations.
The hardest part of all of this is definitely the emotional toll it can take on you. These are your parents. You love them and it is really hard to watch them go from being a source of strength in your life, to someone who needs help. Try to remember that those are big feelings and you need to process that. Find someone you can talk to about your feelings and lean on the people you know who have been through, or are going through this part of life. You are not alone. This can be a truly overwhelming experience, so be sure to take the time to care for yourself. If you are taking care of you, it will make it so much easier to take care of your parents, too.