I receive many questions during the course of a week, and decided to share this particular one, and my response, since it is so universal and SO important. I know that many of you also are confronted with similar situations every day. It’s my commitment to give you all the support I can, so you have what you need to handle life’s challenges.
Every day more and more people are faced with a variety of responsibilities in providing care for their aging parents. This care can involve:
- checking in with phone calls
- making sure they have food to eat
- getting them to and from doctor appointments
- hiring help at home, and supervising the quality of that help
- checking that they have – and take! – their medications
- spending long hours in emergency rooms when symptoms show up that raise red flags….
These are but a few of the many responsibilities and obligations of being a primary caregiver for a parent. And there are more people filling this role than ever before as the “baby boomers” and their parents age.
A common challenge about parental care that I hear starts something like this:
“My mother/father is so difficult. They don’t appreciate anything that I do for them, and they never acknowledge that I might actually have other responsibilities in my life, besides being at their beck and call! If I am not available to help them when they ask, then they tell me what an ungrateful child I am after all they’ve done for me in my life.
Or they will say that they’ve “just lived too long,” and they’re sure I would prefer it if they “just weren’t around any more.” The guilt becomes overwhelming so I usually just change my schedule to take care of whatever it is they need so that I won’t have to deal with their anger, their nastiness or even their silence.”
This scenario happens all too often, and wreaks havoc on the caregiver’s life and the lives of their family. They are dealing with the emotional impact of the situation, in addition to the huge challenge of just juggling the time commitments, given all of life’s other responsibilities and obligations. If they are also holding down (and trying to do well at!) a job, the stress can feel overwhelming.
Let’s break this down into manageable pieces. Today we’ll deal with the “Big Kahuna” of parental care stressors.
Part 1: How You View Your Parents – Expectations and Labeling:
How do you view your parents? Whenever you see someone as difficult, challenging, problematic, etc., you become immediately stressed the minute you have to interact with them – or even when you think about doing so in the future. You end up seeing your parents through a negative lens. Or as my father used to say, you’re ‘suffering from “ocular fecalitis” – otherwise known as “a sh***ty outlook on life” – when it comes to your parents.
This is not to suggest that they aren’t, in reality, presenting you with some challenging issues! And it doesn’t mean that they aren’t making constant demands that impact your life. It simply means that in order to take better care of you while providing some amount of care for your parents, you need to start by focusing on how you think about and label your parents.
In all likelihood, your situation falls into the same two basic scenarios I hear people describe when they tell me about the stress of caring for their parents:
- If your parents used to be independent, capable, self-sufficient people, and now they are dependent, less capable, and not self-sufficient, this change is going to be very hard on them. It isn’t easy to be in a role of receiving care and being dependent. Not everyone adapts to this change in lifestyle well, or with the grace you wish they could.
- If, on the other hand, your parents are used to being waited on, and have always been demanding, then it is a style to which they are accustomed – and on some level you are likely used to it as well. However, that doesn’t mean you aren’t now getting tired of it, and wishing it were different!
A big mistake most people make is assuming the burden is all on you – that you have to just know what your parents want, what they expect, and how to best manage their lives, and how well or not-so-well they are coping with their changing situation.
There are many ways to improve a stressful care giving situation, but the very first thing to do – always – is to check in with them and ASK how things are for them, and what they would like you to do differently in an ideal world. Let them know that you are making an effort to understand things from their point of view and help them in ways that really FEEL helpful to them.
You may have to explain to them that you won’t be able to do exactly what they would prefer, but at least they will feel more heard and you won’t be simply reacting to their outward behavior. You’ll have some more clues about the reasons behind their actions, and the things they say and do under stress.
If you’re lucky, you’ll feel heard too – but if you feel like your words have fallen on deaf ears (maybe literally!), chalk it up to the physiological difficulties of advanced age. They may not understand, or remember the conversation, or care about your concerns the way you’d like them to – but speaking up about your needs in a compassionate way, and making the attempt to let them know what to expect from you, beats bottled-up emotions and silent resentment every time!
Click to read Part II of this article now, and find out the second most important relationship management tool for caregivers….
Note: If you need additional support around this topic, please click HERE to request a half hour free consultation with me – I would love to help you strengthen your “self-care muscles” on this very important aspect of keeping yourself healthy and happy.