When You Need to Parent Your Parent

You’ll feel a range of emotions when your elderly parents become dependent on you. Compassion, concern, resentment, and guilt chase each other in a never-ending cycle as you do your best for the man or woman who brought you into this world and raised you.

Many adults who care for their elderly parents feel they’ve taken on a parenting role to their own parents. Helping their parents toilet, bathe, and dress is all too reminiscent of helping a toddler. And when an elderly person becomes cantankerous, uncooperative, or “rebellious,” caring for them can feel like parenting a teenager.

This is a jarring, and often sad shift for adult children to cope with. Your mom or dad is supposed to be hale and hearty, caring for you instead of the other way around. It can be challenging to come to terms with this new reality. Here are some tips to help you cope with parenting your aging parents:

Face your emotions, and mourn if you have to.

Alzheimer’s disease or dementia can rob you of your loved one years before they actually pass. Other illnesses can also turn your strong parent into a child-like shadow of whom they used to be. Allow yourself to feel the loss of that person and accept who they are now. You may feel sadness, anger, or grief as you face your emotions. Take the time to really process your feelings, with a licensed therapist if necessary. Doing this at the beginning of your caregiving journey will help you be more present in your parent’s care.

Prepare yourself to expend a lot of physical and emotional energy. Even if you’re not your parents’ primary caregiver, you will devote a lot of time to their safety and well-being.

Be respectful of your parents.

Communicating with your aging parents can be frustrating. You may have to repeat yourself many times, or have to cajole them to take their medication. They may become testy with you out of embarrassment, pain, or their own frustration. Remember your parent is dealing with his or her own feelings of discomfort or shame now that they need so much help. In an effort to assert their autonomy, your parent might become stubborn and refuse to cooperate. Try to use respect in all your interactions with them, to speak calmly, and avoid getting into pointless arguments.

Set boundaries.

You may not feel comfortable helping your mom or dad with toileting and bathing, and that’s okay. Another family member may be willing to step in for that role, or you can hire a home-health aide. Another option is an assisted living facility like Bridgeway Senior Living, where your parent can get the help he needs. Assess what you’re comfortable with, and stick to clear boundaries. If your parent is more independent, you can also set specific times of the day when you’re not available to help them, and ask them not to call you after a certain time of night.

Accompany your parents to their medical appointments.

Seniors tend to have a lot of medical appointments, and they may become confused from all the different information and instructions they get from their various doctors. Try to attend every appointment, and take notes for later reference. Be your parent’s advocate at the doctor or hospital. Ask questions when you don’t understand something, and make sure to write it all down. Being at the appointment will also allow you to raise concerns your parent may be downplaying.

Take care of long-term planning as soon as possible.

As soon as you see your parents need more assistance, get to work on the legal aspect. Make sure they have a durable power of attorney in place, as well as a healthcare proxy and advance directive. Ideally this all should have been taken care of long before they need assistance, but if it hasn’t, start working on it right away. Your parent needs to be of sound mind to sign these documents, so you want to take care of it before she deteriorates too much. It’s also never too early to start researching assisted living or long-term care facilities, for when it may become necessary.