Aging Parents Don't Come with Instructions
Those of us who have cared for elderly parents know the internal conflict of love, loyalty, worry, frustration, resentment, and anger. At times, the responsibilities are overwhelming, encroaching on our lives, schedules, families, and careers. It feels as if we are raising young children all over again, but our aging parents are not children. Although their helplessness may trigger the response to treat them as children, if we approach them as such we strip them of their sense of dignity, cause them to feel threatened, and tarnish the bonds of trust.
A therapist can help caregivers understand the intricate dynamics of aging and why the way we think and approach problems often clash with our elders—even though we mean well.
"Boomers" with aging parents are of a different mindset: They can embrace new ideas easily and are used to making decisions—some routine, some of greater importance. For aging parents, a simpler, gentler world is often their reality. Rapid change and shifting opinions can represent a risk, and sometimes doing nothing may seem safer than doing something. This alone can test the most even-tempered of us.
Elders often think and act from a place of fear. They may not say they are afraid, yet they become increasingly angry and agitated, lashing out at us for our best efforts. For some, the focus is survival, while our focus is more task-oriented: to get the job done and find solutions to problems.
Aging parents often speak of the past (although they may not recall if they ate breakfast or took their medication) and friends who have passed away. As they attempt to keep up with today's fast-paced world and care for their aging bodies and new limitations, they are faced with their own mortality and may feel that "the clock is ticking." If a spouse they relied on is also frail or experiencing dementia, their sense of loss can result in"anticipatory grieving." They may repeatedly tell you, "I am ready to die"—but you are not ready to let them go and find it difficult to cope with the "drama" versus the reality.
Adult children who are faced with care-giving often complain that their aging parents are selfish, demanding, and ungrateful. Counseling can help you learn how to set limits. Common parental demands often include daily calling, errands and trips to pick up prescriptions and groceries, household maintenance and repairs, doctor's visits, demands of family dinners, and commitments to bring the grandchildren to visit. These events, especially if you and your family live nearby, can collectively turn into unrelenting pressure and become an unmanageable burden over time. It is important to learn how to kindly and gently say "no" to some things. Otherwise, you will become anxious and resentful of those you love—and they, for the most part, do not realize how controlling and intrusive their behavior has become because they are driven by their needs and desires for companionship and family.
Caring for aging parents takes careful planning, since most of us are hardwired from birth to view our parents as authority figures. A therapist can support you in practicing a skill that is not intuitive and can help you deal with feelings of guilt.
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Carole Landis is located in Haverford, Pennsylvania (PA) on the Main Line in Montgomery County. Her service area includes: Philadelphia, Montgomery County (Haverford, Bryn Mawr, Bala Cynwyd, Wynnewood, Villanova, Rosemont, Narberth, Gladwynne, Penn Valley, King of Prussia, Ardmore) and Delaware County (Newtown Square, Broomall, Havertown, Upper Darby).
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