Moving into the role of caregiver for an elderly parent can be a rugged journey along a treacherous path of frustration and indecision. As children of aging parents, we are often right in the middle of the busiest part of our own lives. We are not only juggling the demands of our growing children, we may be at the pinnacle of our careers, facing financial concerns as college expenses loom on the horizon and a whole array of other concerns that are likely to keep us awake at night, along with night sweats!
Becoming the responsible person for Mom and/or Dad is not something we are necessarily prepared to do. We still remember how hard we worked to move out of their lives and establish our own. It’s not uncommon to feel the tug of unfinished childhood business when the time arrives to hand back a piece of our lives to people who used to take care of us. It is uncomfortable and awkward to become the parent to a parent and it is likely to be as equally uncomfortable for the parent to give up their sense of control in the relationship, just when they are losing so much control of their day-to-day life.
It takes two people who are well grounded and comfortable with who they are to enjoy this journey. Most of us are not in that place! However, love allows for, and simultaneously demands, fluidity throughout life and caring for our elderly parent(s) is a practice field upon which we will hone a number of essential life skills.
Here are just a few:
Practice patience, not only with your loved one, but with yourself. Accept that we never have all of the answers, but we do the best we can with what we have. We are always in a state of “becoming” and all will be as it should be.
Focus on the now. Today is all we have. Focus on the most valuable and meaningful thing in each moment. Consider that sitting with Mom and watching the birds might be just more important than spending an hour on the phone making doctor’s appointments.
Read. Reading articles, books and anything you can get your hands on that deals with the issues you are facing. It is a very helpful way not only to gain a fresh perspective, but also to feel less alone in your difficulties. When I was caring for my parents there was very little information or support available for the children of aging parents. Luckily, you can now find a plethora of information at your finger tips online. A few of the people I know personally are listed here in the Caregiving Section of my website and any of them will gladly offer a hand.
Create space for you. This skill might just be the difficult one you will need to practice, but it is also the most important. Your soul must breathe, your inner spirit must live, if you are to continue to give to others as life requires of you. Caregiver burnout is not a pleasant experience, having been there myself, and it’s not good for you physically, mentally or emotionally to give until you can give no more. Keep your well filled and you will have what you need before, during and after the period of time you are caring for your parents. Create space in your day, every day, for quiet, do-nothing time, even if it’s only ten minutes.
Exercise. Physical exercise is an excellent way to burn off the excess adrenaline that bombards one’s body during stressful times. Just be alert to any tendency you might have to over exercise and honor your body’s need for rest and relaxation.
Fill your backpack with a few of these essential life skills and climbing the mountain ahead will be easier than you may imagine.