Accepting Changing Roles as You Care for an Aging Parent


If you’ve been a primary caregiver for an aging parent, you’ve probably been under a lot of emotional stress as you watch traditional roles shift. You are no longer acting as the child in the parent-child relationship.

Even if you have kids of your own and have been a parent for years, it’s different now that you are “parenting” your own mother or father, the person who was, at times, all-knowing and all-powerful in your eyes.

In addition to the administrative, financial, medical and practical aspects of being a caregiver for a senior parent, adult children must, mentally and emotionally, accept these changing roles. This means accepting that you must now be a source of comfort to your parent (rather than the other way around), may have to teach or help your parent during daily tasks, including bathing, and dressing, and may need to prepare meals or even help your parent eat.

If it becomes too much, which it might, it’s important to re-evaluate the situation for your own sanity and to provide the best care to your parent. Here are a few ways for caregivers to better cope with these rapid and emotionally upsetting changes in their life.

Talk About Your Feelings
Sometimes, all it takes to cope is to speak with others who understand, so that you won’t feel as if you’re alone in your tumultuous emotions. Turn to local churches or community organizations to find support groups, or phone a close friend who has been in a similar situation.

Don’t underestimate the power of social media. You’d be surprised how easy it is to find forums and other online groups of people dealing with similar challenges.

You might also decide to speak to a professional, a counselor or psychologist who can help you sort through and manage your feelings.

Prolong Your Own Youth with a Healthy Lifestyle
Caregivers often come face to face with their own mortality and aging as they care for senior parents. There’s no way to stop the clock on our lives (and we wouldn’t want to, anyway), but you can use this opportunity as a reminder to take care of yourself physically and mentally.

Eat right and find time for exercise. Certainly, if you’re cooking healthy food for your parent, you can share these meals. Resist the temptation to turn to fast food when you’re short on time. Engage in an exercise program with your aging parent, or use evening or early morning kickboxing, yoga or zumba classes as much-needed “me time” for yourself.

Stroll Down Memory Lane
It may be painful to look at photos or watch videotapes from times when you were both younger, but it can also be cathartic. Looking at old pictures can trigger pleasant memories in parents with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Even if they don’t remember specific events or days, they may remember the positive feelings from the times those photos were taken.

Accept Less Than Perfection
Most importantly, as difficult as it may seem, take time to treasure one-on-one time with your parent. Just as your toddler years flew by in an instant from your parent’s perspective, their last years on Earth with you will go by too quickly.

No one expects you to be a perfect caregiver, and you don’t have to be. This was something your parents had to learn when they were raising you, and now the tables are turned. Simply act with love and respect, take time off when you need it, and know that, on some level, your senior parent knows you are doing your best, as well.

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