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Family Matters 06/07/16

Getting Emotionally Prepared to Care for an Aging Parent

Son with aging mother

You may be like me and know the emotional journey of caregiving firsthand. Taking care of my mom before she passed away felt like a full-time job. The toll of decision making, talking with doctors, flying home on a regular basis and taking care of multiple needs can be physically and emotionally exhausting. For me, it wasn't an option not to do this. My mom took care of me when I needed her. Now, it was my turn.

Even though you choose to give care, it can create an emotional strain. The National Family Caregivers Association reports that almost half of all caregivers suffer from depression, two-thirds regularly feel frustrated, and two of five feel "debilitated" due to the changes in family dynamics.

Ever since the term "sandwich generation" was born, self-help groups, facts and information abound on how to make and execute various practical tasks involved in caretaking parents. But it is the emotional part of caregiving that takes a toll.

What are some of the emotional issues involved for the adult caretaker?

  1. Your own mortality. Caretaking an aging parent causes you to think about your own aging process and eventual death.
  2. Who will take care of you if you need help some day? You may begin to think more about your own options and plans for care.
  3. Unresolved parent-child problems. The hope of many is that taking care of a parent may reverse a damaged relationship. When this doesn't happen, it can be even more distressing for the adult child. For example, a daughter might find the father, who never gave approval, still not giving his approval, or the mother, who was depressed and emotionally unavailable, still emotionally distant.
  4. Remorse about the past. You may have regrets that were never discussed.
  5. Reversal of roles. You become the parent and the parent becomes the child. This reversal of roles requires adjustment for both child and parent.

Being a caregiver requires extra doses of patience, understanding, and grace. Try to honor your parents no matter how difficult the caretaking becomes. Remember their dignity. They desire to be independent and self-sufficient as long as possible. Aging parents often worry that they are a burden to their adult children. They are not used to their children having to do for them. Put yourself in their place, having to depend on others when they have lived a life of independence. This perspective helps.

Be aware of the emotional issues raised and then work to manage or resolve them if possible. If you need the help of a therapist, find one who will counsel you and who specializes in treatment with the aged. Take advantage of help and support so you don't become one of the seriously stressed.

The positive side of caretaking is that you will be more aware of what you need to do in terms of your own planning, you become more self-confident in terms of your ability to deal with health care workers and you can end well with your parent, not having regrets about the end of their lives. So do what you can, watch your stress levels, and get plenty of support along the way. Ask God to give you the strength to do what is needed and honor your parents.

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