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Reversing Roles: Caring for Your Parent

Daughter caregiving for her parent.

Taking on the responsibility of caregiving for a parent is challenging, confusing, and life changing. From the beginning, it is uncomfortable for your parent when they are told they need help, and telling their children is to some, an act of giving up their lifestyle and independence.

As the adult child in the relationship, you may be asking many questions. How are we going to handle this situation? What are my responsibilities as your caregivier? What if I do something wrong? All these feelings and questions are normal and valid to an adult child who takes on this role.

Ultimately, the experience of caring for a parent can prove extremely rewarding. Potentially, you will able to keep your parent in a comfortable home environment, surrounded by the people and things that they love. When facilitating stroke recovery, being at home with family can make rehabilitation much more approachable.

Here are some of the lessons that I have learned while providing care for both of my parents. These tips can help ease the emotional burden of caring for a parent and prepare you to handle emergencies when they occur.

Accept these changes as a natural part of life.

No one would deny that watching a parent fall ill or grow weak with age is an emotionally draining experience. Parents need to have their feelings validated. They have been diagnosed with a medical problem and realize the challenges facing them and you. Initially, they maybe defiant and believe they do not need you.

Working through the stages of denial to acceptance is strenuous for both of you. Re-enforcing your desire to help and be there for them can make the process easier. Talk about your fears and realize it only changes your relationship if you allow it to. Your parent needs you and you need to take care of them. 

Eventually you can make it work as you both enter a new stage of life. Many family caregivers report positive experiences from caregiving, including a sense of giving back to someone who has cared for them. The satisfaction of knowing that their loved one is getting excellent care results in personal growth and increased meaning and purpose in life. Some caregivers feel that they are passing on a tradition of care and that by modeling caregiving, their children will be more likely to care for them if necessary.

Talk with your parents before too many challenges or changes

Timing is everything. It may be difficult to sit down with your parents and siblings to talk about care preferences before a crisis develops, but It’s another thing to do so after receiving a disheartening diagnosis. Listening to your parents, involving everyone in the decision-making process, and working together to set up a plan is worth it in the long run.

Collect Medical Information and learn their medical history

“Don’t worry. I am fine,” is the motto of most parents concerning their health. Their parental protective mode prevents them to talk about their “small ills.” Many parents are notorious for keeping the extent of their ailments under wraps, especially when it comes to telling their children.  As the adult child you should be aware any changes: Stumbling, skin color, tiredness, eating habits, weight loss and any mental changes.

Develop a relationship with your parent’s doctor. Go to an appointment with your parent and discuss medications, results of past medical tests and prognosis of the medical problem. Keep a realistic view of their situation: What's the worst that could happen? What's the best possible outcome? Then, determine what options are available for each of these outcomes. Keeping a journal with notes from each doctors appointment, test result and questions can prove invaluable for your siblings and any unexpected emergency room visit.

Begin discussions with your parent about his or her wishes.

Asking questions about your parent’s care preferences will help you provide the care your parent wants. Does your parent have a preference as to who in the family provides care? Do they want the caregiver to come home and care for them? Or a care facility? How does your parent feel about end-of-life care decisions?

Spiritual needs are part of the healing process. Understanding and nurturing these needs for your parents, regardless of your own opinions, creates a sense of a community for your parent.

Reality check – Legal and Financial Issues

Legal documents and finances are important components of the caregiving process. It is a difficult time, but meeting with an attorney to create or update documents now will make life easier as your parent’s health deteriorates. Documents such as: their will, living will, health care proxy, and power of attorney are imperative to fulfill their wishes. Also, the chosen caregiver’s name should be added as a ‘signature of convenience’ to all financial documents including; the checkbook, savings, and any other funds as well as a signature to gain access to their safe deposit box.

Try not to take over paying the bills and making financial decisions immediately. Your parent could feel a loss of independence earlier than they should. Take the time to pay the bills together and discuss any financial decisions. Guidance is preferable to loss of independence. It also provides you and your parent important time together – trust and understanding.

Keep communication lines open among siblings.

This can be the most difficult part of caregiving. This is a tumultuous time, emotions, finances and past family history can be stirred. Discussing what Mom or Dad wants and choosing the ‘main’ caregiver is difficult. Providing care for an aging or ill parent can bring out the best and the worst in sibling relationships.

Ideally, the experience of caregiving is a time for siblings to come together and provide mutual support to one another. However, as a stressful transition, the pressure can also lead to strained connections and painful conflict.

Issues can arise when one or more siblings are in denial over a parent’s condition. Adult children who seem unable to accept the reality of a parent’s illness and refuse involvement may be protecting themselves from facing a parent’s eventual death and their own loss. More active siblings may react with bitterness and anger. Forgiving your siblings and family members will provide peace and tranquility for your parent.  

Generally, one sibling takes on the primary role of caring for a loved one. This may be because he or she lives closest to a parent, is perceived as having less work or fewer family obligations, or is considered the “favorite” child. Regardless of the reasons, the caregiver can become overburdened and should reach out for help whether siblings, friends, visiting nurses or professional companions.

Parental caregivers are special people filled with patience, love, and the willingness to sacrifice part of their life for their parent. Their blessed relationship will always be remembered and a source of joy and fulfillment. They are truly “angels on earth.”

By: Carol M. Maloney, Stroke survivor, former teacher, and adolescent literacy specialist.

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"Parental caregivers are special people filled with patience, love, and the willingness to sacrifice part of their life for their parent."

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