Guest Blog: Parenting Your Parents
As life expectancy rises, we’re finding ourselves looking after not only our young family but our parents too. Parenting our parents is new territory for us – how do we best look after the people who have always cared for us?
Jessica Silver from ElWell provides support and information to people looking after their parents as they get older. So we spoke with her for advice to help understand how to parent our parents.
When do the tables turn?
You have your parents’ best interests at heart, so it makes sense that you want them to stay healthy and well and don’t over-stretch themselves. But we need to make sure we don’t project our worries and concerns about them getting older onto them unnecessarily. Don’t just assume because they’ve reached a certain age that they should be winding down. Yes, they may need to – and then a conversation should be had – but don’t enter the caregiver role if it’s not yet required. Keep monitoring the situation from afar though, as you never know when you will have to step in.
Balance of power shifts
Once we do step in to help, the balance of power shifts. You’re taking on more responsibility and decision making roles (that could be legally if you’re the appointed power of attorney, or just on a more day-to-day level). This change in role changes the family dynamic and can take getting used to on both sides. Keep in mind and explain that all avenues explored have them at the centre, and you all only want what’s best for them.
And by communicate, I mean with your parents and other family members. Talk to your parents about what’s going on, ask them how they’re feeling and explain your thinking. Even if they don’t have the capacity to understand, it will make you feel better. Bring key family members such as siblings in – you don’t need to do this alone. Schedule in regular catch-ups so you can bring people up to speed, discuss options or share out the load. And once decisions have been made, move on and focus on what’s ahead.
Acknowledge how difficult this is
Don’t be afraid to ask for help, you’ll find it in the most unlikely places. A friendly neighbour. A forum or Facebook group where people are going through the same thing. Your friends. A diary. This is such an emotional time so make sure you’re looking after your mental wellbeing too.
Keep stock of everything
As our parents get older, there will be more appointments to go to, potential products to try, prescriptions to pick up. Get one bumper notebook or file and keep everything together there so you always have it to refer to and can find what you’re looking for. It sounds simple but can save you hours of wasted admin time! You might also want to keep note of their behaviour if you notice any changes.
You’re their child but not a child and cannot be there for every whim. You need to take control of the situation and claim your life back. Put boundaries in place to manage expectations with them and other family members.
Make the most of your time with them
Ask them questions about their past and reminisce together if possible. Look after them with the love and affection they have given to you throughout your life. Make these last years, months or moments a time to cherish. Yes, it will be difficult but you’re doing an amazing job and one you won’t forget.
Jessica Silver runs ElWell which provides support and information to people looking after their ageing parents. ElWell understands this is new territory for people, so it aims to help by giving people the answers they’re looking for. Find out more about Jessica and ElWell here.