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The Life Transition Blog

Adult Children Caring For Aging Parents: What’s Hardest?


I was at a women’s networking group meeting this morning and an attendee and after learning about my practice asked the following question:

What do you find is the hardest thing for adult children who are caring for their aging parents?

Here’s how I replied: It seems that the most difficult thing for my clients who are adult children caring for aging parents is to understand that they “can’t fix it” and then learning to take charge (and not take over.) At first, the universal approach is to try to make everything “right” again. However, at this early stage in the caregiving process these adult children fail to realize that they can’t put Humpty Dumpty back together again. Rather, they struggle to stop the natural aging process they see before them in any way they can. For some this means honoring Mom or Dad’s desire to remain independent without help or support even if that’s not safe. I call this denial!

For others this means throwing help and support at the “problem” but it is often the wrong kind of help. For example, I have one client whose Mother could no longer handle her day-to-day affairs. Her son hired a companion to take her to the theatre and on outings but failed to recognize that it was the simple tasks like preparing a meal and paying bills that presented the most immediate need.

She went on to ask me for an alternative strategy.

I shared that often, adult children come to me exhausted, frustrated and overwhelmed. We work together to help them learn and then accept that their “job description” is to keep their parent safe, happy and as independent as possible for as long as possible, ideally in a way that is consistent with their parent’s wishes and resources. This is materially different from trying to fix everything.

As my conversation with the attendee at the networking breakfast continued, she told me what was going on with her parents. They are refusing to allow help at home and she’s worried that they aren’t truly safe and able to manage. She has been trying to “fix” the situation by insisting they accept a home healthcare worker a few days each week but they continue to refuse and it is causing fights between her and them. I asked this woman if her parents have a medical alert system and wear it faithfully. She said they do not. I suggested that she talk with Mom and Dad about how stressful it is for her to worry about them all of the time and for her to tell them that instead of a gift for her upcoming birthday she would like for them to agree to employ such a system and promise to use it. She will even offer to pay for her own “gift”.  And in exchange, for now, she will tell them she won’t bug them about hiring a caregiver.

Coincidentally, when I returned to the office for my next client -- an adult child caring for her mother --the first thing she said to me when we started our session was, “I’m overwhelmed and frustrated.” When I asked for specifics, this woman shared that she couldn’t seem to get her Mom back to where she was before the recent decline. And so, I started the discussion about not being Ms. Fixit again.
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