Guarding the golden years
Taking responsibility for your ageing parents is often a challenging time; open and honest discussion is important for everyone involved.
Whether you’re 16 or 46, your parents are always going to be your parents. It’s hard to imagine anything else. It’s equally difficult to think about a future where you might find yourself in their position, taking on the responsibility
of caregiver to those who spent most of their adult life preparing you for the same. Often referred to as ‘parenting
your parents’ or ‘role reversal’, it can be a trying time for both child and parent, a journey that needs consideration, honest conversations, and an enormous amount of empathy and understanding.
Lynda Bleazard, a life and executive coach at the KimCoach Neuro Academy, says, ‘While we grow up in the parent/child mode, as our parents age it’s healthy to shift that relationship into the adult to adult mode. This way, common interests are explored, activities organised, and your parents retain their autonomy to have opinions, make plans and live independently. As they become older, and when their independence is challenged by their health, loss
of a spouse or financial stress, the roles may change again, this time into us becoming the parent and our parent becoming the child.’ But it doesn’t have to be a testing time for those involved. If your parents are reaching an age where more and more assistance is needed, or if there are early signs for concern relating to elderly ailments or the onset of a cognitive impairment disorder, it might be time to think proactively about their future needs and how you can assist them in their old age. Putting in a bit of work and due diligence now means you don’t have to wait for an emergency to spur you into action.
Lynda suggests, ‘Have open and inclusive discussions with your ageing parents, where you make them feel significant and respected. Through the positive process of coaching/nonjudgemental discussion, you can help them to communicate their goals and needs, their current reality, and their options, and plan a way forward with them in a manner that both respects and dignifies them.’
Take things into consideration
Before beginning discussions with your parents, sit down and take stock of your personal life. When looking after elderly parents or relatives, money, time, and emotional and physical energy will be needed. See which areas you can contribute to, whether your work/ life balance needs to change, or whether you have to accommodate any particular areas. Don’t forget to speak with other members of the family to formulate a plan or ask for support. Having your life in order will help move future discussions along and create space for compromise.
Approach with caution
When you’re ready to approach your parents or relatives, be cautious. It’s easy to forget that for most of their life they’ve been the caregivers. The idea of losing control or giving up even a semblance of independence may be met with anger or resistance. Here are some helpful tips to try and avoid an argument when broaching the subject:
- Preserve your roles: Understand that it will be difficult for them to give up their autonomy or be
thought of as a ‘child’. Rather than ‘parenting’, offer your support as a partner or advisor. Dictating
a life-plan for them will only cause pain and is a sure-fire way to break down communication.
- Remind them that you care about them and you’re not there to care for them.
- Proceed with mutual respect: Make sure both parties are fully aware of the situation and allow
for future plans to be discussed together, taking into account both parties’ perspectives, wishes
The next steps
Once open communication has been established, put a few things in order:
Routine health or mental check-ups: Is there concern for a doctor’s visit? If there is, it’s always a good idea to see to these matters sooner rather than later.
Documentation: Are all their documents in order? Check that living wills, policies, money and other important assets are taken care of and are up to date.
Living conditions: Decide on the best situation. Will they live with you or will they stay at home with extra help? Do they need more full-time care? Ask your parents what sort of care they would like. These matters are very personal and people forced into a plan are less likely to go along without a struggle, and less likely to thrive once in it.
Three generations under one roof
Bringing a third generation into your home offers its own unique challenges. Your children will have another member of authority in their space and it’s a good idea to set boundaries from the beginning:
- Make it known that you’re the primary disciplinarian for your children and that your rules are the ones the kids should adhere to, regardless of whether they’re supported or not by your parents.
- Each member of the household needs to have their own private space, boundaries and rules. Everyone should feel they have their own sanctuary somewhere.
‘After my father passed away in 2001, my mother, Jane, a loving mom and grandmother, was invited to live in an independent cottage on my brother’s property. As a nurturer and healer, she embraced the chance to continue
to be needed by his two small children, and was included in every aspect of their family life. However, 10 years later, when the children were involved in extramural activities and my ageing mom was no longer that involved, she became lonely and started to have some health challenges. This called for a new decision to be made about her future and what she wanted in her life.
‘My mom was sociable, compassionate and loving, but through open and inclusive discussion she came to her own realisation that the time had come for her to be surrounded by people her own age, in a secure habitat where
health check-ups and medical attention could be given immediately if needed. We were proud of her decision to move into a lifestyle/ retirement village near my home. She showed tremendous courage in embracing her new life
and community. She hadn’t realised how lonely she’d become and it was heart-warming to see her move from the role of mom and nana into herself as Jane. She not only participated in the many varied activities held in the village, she even started some. She had a new lease on life and loved every minute of it.’
FEATURE: TARYN DAS NEVES PHOTO: FOTOLIA.COM