Friday, 17 October 2008 13:57
Improvements in health care and lifestyles have resulted in more of us living longer lives. Many families now have one or more parents in their 70s, 80s or older, parents who can complicate their grown children’s lives with care and help demands.
It can be a difficult situation. While we may feel a strong sense of responsibility to an elderly parent, we also have very real obligations to our spouse and children. Balancing what we can do for an aging parent with our family’s and own needs can be difficult.
One important consideration is how real an elderly parent’s needs may be. Health issues certainly can bring demands that we want and need to meet.
But there are also elderly parents who are simply demanding, insisting that their adult children “owe” them and who present never-ending lists of needs, many of them unimportant.
Giving in to such demands out of guilt often leaves a person feeling angry and frustrated, and can create the same anger and frustration in his or her spouse and children. Such resentment is natural when the demands are overwhelming and coming at the expense of the immediate family.
In such cases, it’s necessary to look for alternatives to ease the stress, tension and overall burden the elderly parent is placing on the family. For example:
• Are there siblings who can help? Even when geographically separated, your siblings may find various, often surprising, ways to contribute and ease your burden if asked.
• Are there neighbors or friends of your aging parent willing, perhaps eager, to help?
• Have you checked with local social agencies, such as the Area Office on Aging, to find what options or assistance may be available? Many areas also offer free or low cost Elder Day Care programs that can provide daily assistance.
• Can you manage your time better to make room for both an aging parent and your own life and family? Setting a schedule to visit and help, rather than being constantly “on-call,” often makes things easier.
• Set priorities and stick to them. While it can be difficult to just say “no,” it’s often helpful to separate what’s absolutely necessary for a parent’s well being (doctor visits) from things that really can wait (gardening).
When you let an aging parent overextend you, everyone involved ends up suffering the consequences. While we all want to help someone who loved and nurtured us, it’s also essential to understand our own limits, reasonably and realistically.
“The Counseling Corner” is provided as a public service by the American Counseling Association, the nation’s largest organization of counseling professionals. Learn more at www.counseling.org.