Unnatural but Sometimes Necessary
Your parents have taken care of you from the moment you were born and well into young adulthood. They kept you fed, safe, clothed and loved. Helped with your homework and making “good choices”. They worried when you were sick or broke curfew.
Eventually your parents retired. Maybe they traveled while you raised your kids and similarly fretted about illnesses, curfews and college. But at some point your parents may start to have issues with mobility, vision or worse.
Crushed between ongoing child-rearing responsibilities of your own and helping your parents:
Welcome to the Sandwich Generation
You expect your teenagers might be fibbing that their room is clean or homework done. Although you probably don’t question your parents, they tend to protect their “kids” from “bad news”.
Our parents’ tendency to camouflage the reality about their health may eventually implode revealing a multitude of medical problems and safety concerns. Suddenly you’re juggling conversations with doctors while at a soccer game or arranging for caregivers while in line at the grocery. And maybe you’re doing it all long distance.
I know. I’ve been there.
After my mother buried her husband of 58 years – my dad – in April 2004, followed in December by her son – my older brother – I swooped in to protect her, a behavior she resisted.
From “I Will Never Forget”
Gradually I took on a more protective role. Apparently I revved up a little too high and into hover mode, as sometimes she told me I was “bossy” and needed to back off. “I’m a survivor,” she said proudly”. Indeed she was.
There are many combinations of dynamics between adult “children” and their aging parent. Depending on the specifics of your situation, consider these strategies.
Tips For Parenting Your Parent
Most parents resist intervention from their adult children. I had to tread carefully to balance the respect my mother deserved against the supervision she needed. What worked best for me was to identify her specific needs and “offer” to help.
From “I Will Never Forget”
I noticed Mom’s sweater was uncharacteristically dirty. As I scratched my finger over the discolored streak, I realized something brownish was sloughing off in my hand—chocolate. “Mom,” I said gently, “this is a little dirty. Maybe I can wash it for you?” “Sure. You can do my laundry anytime,” she answered.
This technique allowed me to steadily take over her checking account (Mom had written nine checks to her insurance company because she couldn’t remember writing even one), driving and medication management. When her Alzheimer’s advanced creating serious safety concerns, Mom had to be moved! The only technique that worked during those tumultuous months was continuing to remind her that I loved her and that I was doing “what was best for her.” Sound familiar?
By contrast some parents feel entitled to unlimited help from their adult “children”. This attitude presents very different challenges.
Caregiving adult children may battle exhaustion trying to juggle their parent’s “needs/demands” with those of their family and completely ignoring their own health.
My advice in this situation is to Parent your Parent the way you Parent your Child:
Set boundaries. Make the rules clear. Don’t waffle. It’s always easier said than done, but the basic message is that if your parent is safe, you have to set and enforce limits about what you can do and when.
Long Distance Care
It’s especially difficult trying to sort out your parent’s circumstances separated by thousands of miles and a few time zones. “I was both too far away physically and too close emotionally to see what was playing out with my mom.”
Today’s technology can be an asset to managing the distance issue. Sykpe, Face Time and Video conferencing, while not perfect substitutes for a live discussion, can be helpful. In my mother’s situation, staff observed bizarre and uncharacteristic behaviors in her that I never saw (until I did!).
If anyone had suggested videoing Mom as she ranted hysterically through the lobby, I would have been shocked, but it would have catapulted me out of denial and into reality. Legalese aside “irrefutable video evidence” speaks volumes. Hire an independent agency to clearly evaluate your parent’s status and implement a plan accordingly. Maybe your parent has to be relocated closer to you.
Health issues and family dynamics are too complex and varied for universal solutions. The point is to balance your responsibilities to your family and your aging parent or you will be the one in need of health care!