Whether we’re 3 or 53, our parents will always be our parents. Even under the best circumstances, it will never feel natural to tell your mother she can’t drive anymore or your dad that it might be time to give up the house he has lived in for 50 years.
Here are a few things I’ve learned, often the hard way. I hope some of them will help to ease your journey.
No Time Like the Present
Begin investigating and assessing services sooner than later. We did not do this, and that was a big mistake.
- When everyone is thinking rationally, options can be carefully weighed with less opportunity for emotions to get in the way.
- If you think home health care or assisted living is in your parent’s future, start doing some due diligence now. Don’t wait for the dreaded phone call or emergency to heave you into action.
- Have important discussions before problems arise. It won’t be easy now, but it will be even more difficult if you wait.
Don’t Make Comparisons
Remember that no two situations are the same.
- While talking with others who might be ahead of you on this journey is a great idea – and recommended – do keep in mind that there’s no cookie cutter, one-size-fits-all solution.
- What works beautifully for another family may be disastrous for yours.
- Make decisions and move on. Don’t chastise yourself if your friend is her mother’s 24×7 caregiver and you, for whatever reason, cannot do the same.
Consider engaging professional assistance sooner than later.
- A geriatric case manager can help assess the situation and make recommendations.
- An elder care attorney will provide guidance on estate issues, advance directives, and financial matters. They can also help demystify your state’s Medicaid rules if needed.
- Often a parent will accept suggestions from an “outsider” with a little less push back.
Know Your Role
As a caregiver, just knowing what you are and what you aren’t can help to ease friction and struggles considerably.
- You ARE their advocate. Where their care is concerned, even if they are in assisted living or skilled nursing, you are in charge. You have the right to ask tough questions and act accordingly when you don’t get answers you’re comfortable with.
- You are NOT their dictator. When feasible, let them provide input; try to present suggestions in such a way that they feel like it was their idea. Try to honor their wishes if it’s doable.
- You ARE their partner and advisor. Try to assess the situation together, explaining what you have observed and why it concerns you, then offer options and ask for their thoughts.
Look For Ways to Ease Into Discussions
One big key to success is approaching these topics gently. This is a situation where the “bull in china shop” technique will not go over well. Find natural ways start conversations.
- Tell them you’re setting up automatic bill pay for yourself and suggest it may be helpful for them as well. Or let them know you’re starting your taxes and would be happy to assist with theirs since you have a handy computer program to make the process easier.
- Relate your own preparations to help get a point across. For instance, “Bob and I are going to see an attorney next week to have our wills drawn up. Have you and dad done that?”
- Share someone else’s story: “My friend Mary is going through a really rough time. Her mother is very ill and doesn’t have a living will, so Mary is agonizing over some really tough decisions.”
Last But Not Least
This whole circle of life thing isn’t for the faint of heart. This is hard stuff. It’s natural for a parent to balk at taking direction from their child, so it’s important to be firm and honest, yet sensitive and never patronizing. No one likes to feel they’re losing control of their life, and that’s common under these circumstances.
Providing reassurance can ease their fears. Let them know your goal is to help them maintain their independence for as long as possible and that it’s okay if they require some assistance to do so.
Last but not least, don’t neglect your own needs. Ask for help; it’s actually more a sign of strength than weakness to recognize and accept the fact that one person can’t do it all. Find a support group, even if it’s online. Just talking with others who understand your situation can be a true sanity saver.
What suggestions can you offer for successfully navigating through this difficult shift in roles?