Aging parents and older adults are living full, independent lives longer than ever before. But for most, there still comes a time when they need extra assistance – whether with household chores and home maintenance or perhaps weekly shopping and transportation. Often, the support role falls to one of the adult children, who then find themselves burdened on both sides by family obligations. These individuals, sometimes known as the sandwich generation, can find it difficult to manage. The extra strain can bring up complicated feelings or lead to challenging changes in family dynamics. So read on for four essential coping strategies.
- Plan ahead
While your parent is still active and healthy, take the time to talk about the future. Sit down in a quiet moment and talk about their living situation. Discuss different scenarios for the months and years ahead. Will they accept hired help for chores they used to do themselves, such as gutter cleaning and grocery shopping? How will they get around if they aren’t able to drive anymore? If maintaining a single-family home becomes too much work, will they be willing to relocate, for example? Discuss the various options available to them, such as independent living, and what moving could entail. Talk about your role in this future as well, from how you anticipate supporting them to how you may feel as changes take effect.
Keep notes on these discussions and create a written plan that reflects your parents’ wishes for support. This helps keep everyone on the same page. Planning ahead also tends to reduce stress and expenses down the road, because it gives you a roadmap to follow, and time to prepare financially for changes.
- Communicate and support one another
Sometimes the burden of supporting an aging parent falls disproportionality to one sibling, whether because that person lives closest, or due to traditional roles (the expectation often rests heavily on the eldest daughter, for instance). This can create tension within the family, or resentment among members – especially if the prime supporter has family obligations of their own.
If you are the main caregiver, be sure to communicate frequently with the rest of the family about what you need, and how you are feeling. Ask for help overtly, and don’t assume people will automatically know to offer. Specific requests are usually the most productive. For instance: “I could use some help with winterizing mom’s house between this and that date,” or, “let’s set a time to go through some of the basement boxes with dad and hold a downsizing sale.”
If you aren’t the primary supporter, or you live far from your aging parent, make a point of checking in regularly. Set up family calls or video conferences make sure your parent feels part of the family unit. Offer to assist however you can, whether monetarily, with paperwork or in person. Sometimes listening and giving moral support can be a great help as well.
- Don’t neglect your own needs
Even when an aging parent is still relatively healthy and active, playing the role of the primary supporter can add strain, especially if you have other obligations such as children and a busy career. Even if it’s just helping with chores or making sure your parent is eating three square meals a day – you may be adding commitments to an already-packed roster.
Taking on a support role in the life of someone who used to care for you can also bring up complicated feelings. It’s normal to feel a range of emotions, from worry and guilt to grief, anger or even shame. Everyone’s situation is a little bit different, and it’s important to be kind and compassionate with yourself, first and foremost. If your physical or mental health takes a hit because you’re overtaxed and exhausted, you might not be able to provide support at all – which is counterproductive.
A lack of self-care can also lead to resentment, frustration or stress. A growing body of scientific evidence suggests many caregivers experience negative psychological effects. So, it’s critical to make time for yourself, even in the busiest schedule. This might mean carving out a few minutes each day to go for a walk, splurging on a healthy meal kit instead of cooking, joining a support group or even hiring outside help for your parent, such as a landscaping company or housekeeping services. Seek out government resources available to caregivers.
- Remember the rewards
While all of the above may seem daunting, it’s important to remember that there are plenty of positives to supporting an aging parent. Family relationships can grow closer through increased interaction, and you’re likely to learn new skills, tapping reserves of empathy and patience you never knew you had. Some studies even show that caregivers enjoy improvements in their own health and well-being compared with their non-caregiver counterparts. Many caregivers find a new appreciation for life, and increased self-esteem, in caring for their loved one. After all, your parent spent so many years supporting and caring for you. Now you finally get to return the favour!
Is your aging – but independent – parent ready for a change in living situation? Be sure to learn more about PARC Retirement Living, where healthy and active seniors can maintain their independent lifestyle, with extra enrichment and support, from housekeeping and delicious healthy meals to lively cultural programming and fun fitness classes.