Changing Relationships: Caring for Yourself While Caring for Your Aging Parents

 

With people living longer than ever before, more and more individuals find themselves sandwiched between caring for their children and caring for their aging parents.

Coping with our fast-paced, always-connected world is stressful enough, but when you add double or triple the family responsibilities, well, it quickly gets overwhelming.

You’re probably losing time and energy worrying about things that aren’t getting done or things you have to do next. You may not realize just how much physical and mental stress you are under, or how much that has been sapping your effectiveness at work and at home. Guilt may be a constant companion. While you take care of your parents, you may feel that you’re not doing enough for your children, and vice versa.

You may experience feelings of grief and loss, as you see your parents changing and the roles of your family shifting. You may also feel fearful and anxious about your parent’s mortality, and that gets you thinking about your own.

With all of the extra time you need to take care of others, there is less time—if any—to spend on yourself and the things that recharge you.

Here are five ways to take care of yourself while taking care of your aging parents.

  1. First, meet your own needs. You can’t help anyone else if you are so sapped of energy and joy that you are miserable and lifeless. Block out time every day for something that’s just for you. Even a few minutes make a big difference. Give equal attention to your emotional, spiritual and physical needs. Protect that time as your most important appointment—because it is!
  1. Get support for your parents. Seek out government and community resources for home care, medications, support groups, mobility aids and adaptive equipment. Keep up-to-date organized records of your parents’ medical history, as well as the contact information and recommendations of everyone you consult with. If your parents are in transition to a new home, consider hiring a professional organizer (me!) to help with the process and lighten your load.
  1. Get support for yourself. Reach out to supportive friends or family members; even a short phone call can give you a much-needed lift. Or schedule lunch and enjoy your time with friends and family. If it feels right, seek out a support group, or individual therapy or counseling.
  1. Banish guilt. Accept that you’re doing your best and acknowledge the efforts you’re making. Actually list them on paper if you need to! If you notice yourself feeling guilty, ask yourself if you would want someone in the same situation as yours to feel guilty. The answer, certainly, is no.
  1. Celebrate life and family. As your family changes, focus on remembering and sharing positive memories of your life together. Also, create new rituals and traditions that everyone can participate in, such as picnics, games, crafts or time enjoying nature.

Start right now with even one of these strategies. It will feel like a breath of fresh air, loosening the grip of your tightly packed life and infusing your entire family with renewed energy and joy.

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