Your parents likely helped you a ton growing up. From changing your diapers to teaching you how to drive, they were an integral part of your growth and development.
But as you both get older, you may notice the roles reverse. You may offer to take them to doctor’s appointments so they don’t have to drive. In fact, you may be struggling to find the right time to speak to them about giving up their keys for their own safety.
The role reversal is fraught with emotions on both sides. It’s difficult to watch your parent lose the ability to perform tasks that used to come second nature — tasks they may have taught you — like cooking or managing finances. Put yourself in their shoes, though. It can be emotionally taxing to accept that you can’t bake your favorite cake like you used to or need assistance paying bills. Pride, the knowledge that time is finite, and grief can all play a role.
You may be eager to help, hoping it eases the burden and pain. But you may notice your offers for assistance — well-meaning as they are — get met with resistance.
Everyone requires a different kind of bedside manner. Ultimately, you’ll have to cater your approach to each parent. But one or more of these tips may help you help your aging parents without coming off as overbearing.
Why Caregiving Role-Reversal Changes Relationships
Think about it: If the new Gen-Z junior associate, who is fresh out of college, explained something that fell under your purview at a work meeting, how would you feel? You were supposed to be an expert on the topic, and all of a sudden, this upstart steals your thunder.
Of course, it’s supposed to be a team effort, but you may have felt like the associate showed you up. Your ego may be a bit bruised.
Your parents may feel the same way when you explain how to file a tax return or balance a checkbook, two tasks they did autonomously for decades. They may get frustrated with you, and vice versa. It can start to feel like a combative power struggle, which is physically and emotionally draining for both of you.
How to Successfully Navigate Helping Your Aging Parent
Whether you get your aging parent to accept help is going to partially depend on your approach. It may require some finesse, a ton of patience, and empathy. Here are some top tips.
You may want to approach the conversation with your parents with kid gloves on and patience top of mind. But there are times when urgency is necessary. If your mom left the stove on for the second time in a week or wanders off and cannot find her way home, you’ll want to talk to her immediately and frankly about the need to see a doctor for an assessment.
Generally, though, you’ll want to be patient with your parents. These changes are new to them, too. You may offer to come over and cook for your dad four times per week, leaving leftovers for the weekend, and he may initially reject it.
If there are no safety concerns associated with allowing him to continue to fend for himself food-wise, let it go for the time being. Perhaps in a couple of weeks, circle back to the conversation, but frame it differently.
You might say, “I’d really love to spend more time with you and have been thinking about all the times we used to spend in the kitchen together growing up. Would it be OK if once a week I came over and we made an old recipe together?”
That way, it makes it seem like your parent is doing you a favor.
Emphasize That You’re on Their Team
Sometimes, it can feel like your offers to help an aging parent turn the relationship combative. But really, you’re on their side and just want to help. They may see you as hijacking their routine, though.
Take a step back and make sure they know you’re coming from a good place. Try, “I love you, and I’m concerned because I’m seeing XYZ. How can we make this better for you?”
Give Them Choices
You may think you know what’s best for your parent. For example, you have a spare bedroom, and you think it has their name on it. But they may crave independence. Asking open-ended questions and giving them options can help them feel more in control. Try:
- What do you think the best way to resolve this issue is?
- Would you prefer in-home care or to move to an assisted living community?
- Would you like my help with that?
- You seem frustrated. Would you like to tell me what’s going on?
- I’m so happy we were able to have lunch together. As a thank you, would you mind if I took care of the dishes for you?
When you ask these types of questions, you are not dictating what your parent needs to do. Rather, you are allowing them to take the reigns of their own care and come up with solutions they can live with.
Keep it Respectful
Ultimately, unless their health and safety are at risk, you will want to respect your parent’s wishes and space. If your dad hates it when people come over unannounced, make sure you call first. Don’t research nursing home facilities if your mother has made it clear she wants to age in place and has a plan for homecare set up.
While you may be assisting with your parent’s care, you aren’t parenting them in the same way they parented you growing up. They still have boundaries and autonomy. The request and OK for help do need to come from them, barring a health and safety issue.
Have Non-Invasive Safety Nets
As people age, they become fall risks. They may also forget to take their medications. That doesn’t mean they necessarily need to move in with you or to an assisted living facility. Having a pendant they can push if they fall to receive emergency assistance or helping them set up a reminder on their phone to take their medications every day allows them to maintain independence, health, and safety.
Let Them Do What They Can
Your mom may not be able to drive anymore, but if she’s still paying her bills on time, consider not intervening. Letting an aging person perform tasks like they always have for as long as they can help them feel more confident and autonomous. It’s essential to pick your battles. It will be harder for them to take you seriously about challenges they are actually having if you’re meddling in everything.
Though it’s important to be empathetic and compassionate towards your parents, you’ll want to extend the same courtesy to yourself. You love your parents, and it isn’t easy to see them get older. You may feel like your time is limited. If they do enlist or accept your help, it becomes another item on your to-do list, even if you want to do everything you can for them.
Make sure you’re practicing self-care, such as getting outside for a daily walk. A therapist can help you work through the emotions you may be feeling. And don’t bite off more than you can chew. If it’s best to hire a home aid for day-to-day care because you have to work, it’s OK to tell your parent that, too.
Perhaps most importantly, share the load with siblings, neighbors, or any close friends who may be able to lend a hand. Use an app like WayWiser to communicate and coordinate your caregiving needs on a daily basis.