You start to feel old when you take a more parent-like role with your parents. It happens slowly. Your dad can’t rake the yard anymore, or your mom doesn’t feel comfortable driving at night. So, you start helping them out with chores and rides, etc. A few years later it dawns on you. You’re parenting your parents.
Of course, helping out my parents was not something I ever questioned. My mom and dad were the driving force that helped me get to where I am today, and I was eager to pay them back. But it was difficult to see the people that I had relied on for almost 40 years not be able to do things for themselves. In the case of my dad, which I wrote about in this post, his decline happened quickly.
What was especially challenging for me wasn’t the logistical tasks. Those things ended up working themselves out, as my sisters and I integrated their needs into our personal routines. What I didn’t see coming, was that we got more and more involved in the “Big Stuff.” They needed help with major decisions related to expenses, taxes, and investments. We also needed to take an active role in their health care, making sure that they were taking their medicine, and attending doctors appointments so we could help them make important decisions related to their care.
As my dad’s health continued to decline, I anticipated that it was going to be a challenging time and I got back into therapy. I was lucky enough to find someone who had a lot of experience with grieving, and he was willing enough to share it. His young daughter was killed in a car crash when she was a teenager, and a few years later he lost the use of his legs due to an accident. He had a tremendously sensitive and transparent view of grief and how I could tap into my personal community (friends, extended family, co-worker), to help me process the many emotions associated with my situation.
Getting into talk therapy was good, but the impact of seeing my dad decline, and the impact it had on my mother and our family was transformative. Things had fundamentally changed for all of us, and it wasn’t for the better.
After my dad passed away I realized that, in addition to therapy, I had to personally take some constructive steps to figure out how to deal with the requirements of a stressful job, the demands of fatherhood, maintaining a house, and being a partner to my wife. It was a lot and I was struggling to manage my own life and the situation with my parents, without their steady hand to guide me through as I had in situations in the past.
This article on AgingCare.com gave me five concrete steps that I could do for my mom, as well as myself. The Caregivers page on the MassMen site was also helpful. For me personally, these three tips stood out:
- Talk, Talk, Talk – It’s essential that you communicate clearly and talk often with your siblings about the needs of your parents, especially if you’re not in the same area. It also gives you a natural support network. You’re not in this alone. If you don’t have siblings to talk to, seek out a friend or two who are willing to give you an ear. Try not to overly rely on your partner, as it can bring added stress to your relatinsihp
- What’s the Gameplan? – Have the hard conversations. Do your best to be honest with your parents and your siblings about what they need and what you can do.
- Don’t Forget You – There are 103 things going on at home and work. Your to-do list looks like a never-ending CVS receipt. But you MUST take the time to eat decent meals, exercise regularly and try to meet up with friends. I took this seriously and wrote in this blog about the steps I take to nurture myself.
From lovely to challenging, what are your stories with helping your parents and what steps did you take that helped you, help them?
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