Father’s Day often brings up images of our childhood when Dad was our protector, maybe even our superhero. He may have helped us with our math, taught us to play ball, or simply tried to ensure we had everything we needed. We took comfort that he would always be there for us. But as we grew into adulthood and Dad grew older, we began to realize our role as son or daughter would change.
The role of caregiver for an aging parent is something most of us will face someday. Father’s Day can make these changing roles seem all too real. This day is often one of nostalgia – of remembering the past when Dad seemed invincible.
As our parents become older and need our support to deal with illness and aging, it can be a difficult and unsettling change. We often wonder how to play this new role in our relationships with those who were our caregivers. We know we want to ensure their wellbeing, protect them and support them, like they did for us. But how do we balance this shift?
6 Tips On Becoming Your Parent’s Caregiver
- Don’t Forget You’re Still Their Child. You may have become their caregiver, but in their eyes you will always be their child. Take comfort in this. It’s not a role any of us want to completely give up. Find ways to still let them ‘mother’ or ‘father’ you. This can be as simple as frequently asking their advice, asking how they would handle a situation you are going through, or what they would do. Ensuring they know you still need them will help them feel empowered, that they still have something to contribute, that they still matter. And that is a powerful feeling.
- Respect Their Independence. It’s still important to honor them and avoid treating them like children. The term “role reversal” is all over the internet, but is it really accurate for your aging loved one’s current situation? Our parents, in most cases, may not need us to attend to them as we would attend to a child. Try not to overstep your role. Remember they still need to feel in control and empowered in choices. Think about what the right amount of support is now, and know you can reevaluate in the future.
- Understand Their Perspective. Caring for a declining parent will have many challenges. Often decisions about independence cause the biggest differences In opinion. You worry about their safety, they worry about losing their independence. The hardest to accept realization for your aging parent is that they may not be physically able to continue to care for themselves and have to rely on your support and care – the person they once cared for. You want to jump in and handle everything, and they see themselves as losing not only the life they created for themselves but who they are. Seeing this change through their eyes will help you understand their perspective and help guide you in decision making.
- Respect and Communicate. Never be condescending when talking to your aging parent about their care or needs. If they need help for physical reasons, remember that their mental capacities may still be as strong as they always have been. Avoid keeping medical or financial information from them because you assume they can handle it. Never make decisions without consulting them first and asking their opinion. They have the right to know what is going on. Involve your parent in all care decisions. Sit together and assess the total situation.
- Do Only What Is Needed. The cardinal rule of caregiving is: “Never do for someone what they can and should do for themselves.” Respect and empower what they can still contribute to their own care.
- When Hospice May Be The Answer. Hospice, which is expert care focused on improving quality of life, can help each of you return to your familiar roles. Many of our hospice patients have told us that being able to feel like a son or daughter again was one of the most unexpected yet valuable gifts of hospice. It is unavoidable that caring for a loved one changes relationships. Often you are seen as a ‘caregiver’ rather than their child, and your yourself no longer feel like you can be their child. Hospice brings a full breadth of care. Nurses provide expert medical care and support, CNAs help with daily care like bathing, grooming, changing linens, light meal preparation. This support helps families return to feeling like families. Your parent may also feel more comfortable with hospice care and feel like they are less of a burden. The best role you can play is to help your parent get the best care possible while allowing the, to still feel like your parent.
When we become our parents’ caregiver it is not an easy change. There are so many strong emotions involved and even a real degree of sadness. It will feel almost like you are losing the person they once were to you. And they will feel like they are losing their role of being your parent. But with understanding, respect, communication and empathy, this can also be an opportunity to bond and become even closer.
Hospice of South Texas is here to help guide you with any care decisions. We offer real support – whether it’s help from our nurses to ease symptoms, help from our CNAs and volunteers to share caregiving responsibilities, or help from our chaplains and social workers so fear and anxiety can be replaced with strength, confidence and peace. Reach out to us today for answers, hope and options.