As if being married, raising children, running a household and holding down a job aren’t enough to give you grey hairs, along comes one of life’s toughest curve balls. It starts with the realisation that an undeniable shift is happening, where you’re becoming more like ‘the adult’ in your relationship with your parents.
To varying degrees, you’ll find yourself topped and tailed by an older and younger generation to care for. Having a sense of what the challenge might bring and being proactive early on can help save your sanity and protect your close relationships from inevitable knocks.
You’ll have to cope with tough choices. Brace yourself for the endless stream of medical, financial and quality-of-life decisions that will have to be made. Know that these will sometimes be at odds with what your parent wants, as well as everybody else in the extended family. If you land the overwhelming role of primary carer, stop stressing and start delegating. If your siblings are close by, lean on them – a social media group can keep them updated and will also offer a lifeline when you need it yourself. While frustration and resentment are unavoidable, work to minimise them.
It’s not like having another child. ‘My mother-in-law had lived a whole life before I was even born. She was set in her ways – and rightfully so.’ Your older parent has adult feelings and needs to be engaged. Caring for her will be time-consuming and require lots of patience. Managing medication, arranging doctors’ visits, convincing her to try a hearing aid, walker or wheelchair, and helping her manoeuvre around the house, are all things you’ll need to accept and cope with yourself.
It might be embarrassing and uncomfortable, and could compromise her dignity. Having someone live in your home sometimes means seeing and hearing more than you want to. It’s tricky trying to have a semblance of normality when your parent is always there. Calling on the help of other relatives, so that you can have a break or entertain by having friends over for a regular get together, is very necessary to limit feelings of resentment.
Focus on your relationship with your partner. Discuss with your partner the inevitable strain your relationship will be put under, and do your best to prepare your children by talking about life and death with them. When you feel like lashing out, it’s time for some space. Ask for help and take the break you need. Don’t be too proud to admit you can’t handle it all on your own.
‘A doctor’s job is to worry about prolonging life, not quality of life.’ Try to remember that prolonging your loved one’s life at all costs may be at the expense of her seeing out her final years, months and days as enjoyably and comfortably as possible. Don’t be afraid to step in, for your parent’s sake.
Could a senior-care aide or assisted living and frail care be better for all involved? Shouldering all the responsibility because you feel you have to, might not do anyone any favours. Don’t wait until it’s too late to hire help or look into moving your loved one into a facility that’s dedicated to catering to her needs. Making the decision early on with your parents is better than doing it with your siblings or all alone.
Explore the financial implications and make arrangements to afford it. Take your parents to visit assisted-living centres nearby, and don’t wait to put their names down on the waiting list – it’s often difficult to find space.