Caregiving Blog: 5 Tips For Caring for Aging Parents and Avoiding Family Conflict

Family conflict occurs in many family caregiving situations when aging parents begin to need assistance. Disagreement occurs about which child should provide care. Which child has the most free time.  Aging parents resist the idea of adult children managing their lives. The situation of adult children helping parents is similar to the reverse of the parent-child relationship when children are growing up. Now the adult children are attempting to act in the role of a parent for an aging parent. Aging parents are angry and may resist assistance. If you are an adult child there are ways to approach subjects that seem to smooth the way rather than to create more conflict.

None of us want to be told what to do. Below are 5 tips for caring for aging parents that avoid potential conflicts. Help your parent understand that you love them and are doing your best to be helpful.

Initiate conversations in the “asking mode”.

This means rather than telling your parents all the things that you notice are wrong, instead ask them them how they feel about daily activities and other needs. An example of a conversation starter might be, “Mom I’m noticing that it’s physically exhausting for you to grocery shop. What ideas do you have to make this easier?” Admittedly mom may not have any ideas. Or the idea may be for you do the grocery shopping. The goal of these conversations is not to add additional caregiving tasks to your list.

The goal is to have parents consider other alternatives and sources of assistance. In this situation, the alternative may be hiring a caregiver companion to accompany your mom shopping. This person can also put away the groceries and even cook a few meals. Help your brothers and sisters understand that mom and dad want some control over their lives. Telling your parents what they will do is a sure recipe for failure. As a child you did the exact opposite of what you were told. Why should your parents be any different?

Understand that your parents may be too independent, proud, or stubborn to admit they need help.

Aging is accompanied by physical and emotional losses. Aging parents have more difficulty walking up and down the stairs. Falls may have already occurred. Driving is becoming a challenge. Grieving all of these losses is difficult. Discussing these losses is difficult with adult children for whom the parent feels he or she should still remain an example. Aging parents view the admission of needing help as a sign of weakness or a loss of dignity. If you are able to extend the idea of assistance as a positive, rather than a negative then the support may be more readily accepted.

For example, “Mom you’ve cleaned house all these years, can I pay for weekly housekeeping services? This would allow you to have time to do other things you enjoy. Your years of cleaning toilets can be over.” As adult children have conversations about paying for small projects or assistance for your parents. If money is challenging have your children help grandpa and grandma. Bring over home cooked meals. Take laundry to your house. There are ways to help while maintaining the dignity of your parents. By understanding why loved ones refuse care you will become a more patient and compassionate family caregiver.

Exercise extreme patience and then exercise more patience.

Think of caring for aging children as if you were caring for a baby. Babies cry. They can’t tell you what they want and sometimes even as cute as they are, you want to pull out your hair from a sense of frustration. Aging parents can tell you what they want but their wishes may be illogical. Parents may agree to do something and then totally change their mind in a matter of minutes. Aging parents move slower, talk slower, think slower, and forget conversations. They are not attempting to “get on your last nerve”. Their actions are those of an aging adult of which one day you will be. Always have reading material if you have to wait on a parent so that you can pass the time pleasantly rather than impatiently.

Plan ahead and add another hour or two to complete tasks. Things will take longer than you expect. Your parent will come up with 10 other things they need when you show up. Enjoy this time. Believe it or not – you’ll miss these experiences when your parents are no longer with you. You’ll miss the days when the phone doesn’t ring with your mom or dad’s voice on the other end of the phone. I have friends who refuse to delete voice mails from parents who have passed one. Trade off “caregiving days” with your brothers and sisters if at all possible. It is not reasonable to expect one sibling to be the one always available to assist parents. Family relationships are preserved, instead of damaged, by sharing caregiving tasks for parents.

Help your parent find meaning and to engage in social activities.

After retirement many individuals feel lost. The daily routine of waking up and going to work has ended. If friendships were not cultivated and maintained outside of work, your parent may feel alone and lonely. If your parent was not social, making friends or leaving the home to participate in new activities may be overwhelming.

Research confirms that social activities for older adults is extremely important to well-being, positive self-esteem, and physical health. Having a reason to get up out of bed and get dressed gives us purpose. Older adults who socialize are healthier and live longer. If you or your brothers or sisters have hobbies you enjoy, see if you can engage your parent in these hobbies. Many senior centers have exercise and other classes and even day trips that might be enjoyable. Take up playing cards, board games, or puzzles. Stimulation is good for the mind.

Make memories by hiring caregiving assistance.

My Polish grandmother made an amazing apple coffee cake. I never asked for the recipe and no one else in the family has the recipe. I would love nothing more than to make grandma’s apple coffee cake but it’s too late.We have boxes of old black and white family photos and didn’t ask my parents about the individuals in the photos. I have no idea if these nameless individuals are family or friends. Take the time to spend time with your parents today that is NOT related to caregiving tasks.

Spend family time with your brothers, sisters, and your parents before too much time passes. Be with both parents while you can before one passes away. Know that the stress of a parent caring for another parent can be considerable. Guilt is a common experience for a caregiving spouse similar to the caregiving guilt that exists for adult children. Rather than spending time feeling guilty about things you didn’t or can’t do today make memories that you will cherish after your parents are gone.

Caregiving is stressful. Aging parents need more assistance as they age and as health and memory concerns occur. Learning to work with, rather than disagree with brothers, sisters, and other family members is important. You can’t make up for lost time or lost memories. Family conflict is not pleasant or positive. There’s no guarantee that any of us will wake up in the morning. Do what you can today to maintain family relationships.

For more practical caregiving tips check out my book The Caregiving Trap: Solutions for Life’s Unexpected Changes and subscribe to my FREE family caregiver library where caregiver support and programming are available.

About Pamela Wilson

PAMELA D. WILSON, MS, BS/BA, NCG, CSA helps caregivers and aging adults solve caregiving problems and manage caregiving needs through online programs, live support groups, and an extensive caregiving library that includes articles, podcasts, videos, and webinars.

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