Becoming the dedicated caregiver for an aging parent often doesn’t just strain your schedule — it can strain your relationship with that parent, too.
As your visits become more about keeping the house in order and less about spending time together, it’s natural for tension to arise. While you’re cleaning, preparing meals, handling yard work, paying bills, keeping Dad on top of his medication, trying to get Mom to get some exercise — all while trying to balance your own life — it can all become mentally exhausting.
Meanwhile, your parent likely feels the pain of losing independence. Oftentimes, the care recipient may respond with resentment rather than gratitude for your help.
If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by the tasks at hand and the emotional burden accompanying them, know that you’re not alone—and there are ways to improve the situation.
We Must Think Big Picture
It’s important to keep the long-term objective in mind.
It may be difficult to discuss — but it’s important to keep your loved one comfortable, safe and happy, knowing that the situation is only going to get more challenging. As your loved one moves toward increased dependence, you know it’s going to put you in a tough position.
Expectations for a loved one will be higher. After all, who would be expected to provide optimal care, optimal attention to a parent if not their own child? It’s unfair that a person untrained would have to shoulder such lofty expectations, and it can definitely strain the relationship.
Understand: There is a solution.
Respite care provides you some rest from this situation as things progress. It can be the perfect introduction to ongoing professional care too, and a way to ease both you and your loved one into long-term care solutions.
It's Normal to Need Help
You are not alone. There are over 34 million unpaid caregivers for a parent or loved one. Many of these people have no training and are uncomfortable in this difficult role reversal.
The emotional toll of watching a parent age can be taxing, mentally and physically. Becoming the caregiver for that parent can quickly become more than one person can bear. It can feel like every ounce of your energy and emotional capacity is going to your mom or dad, and yet there’s still always more to do.
For many people who have taken on the role of caregiver, it’s hard to accept that they can’t do it all — and no one wants to let Mom or Dad down. But when responsibilities become unsustainable for one person (or move beyond their expertise and experience), it can damage the relationship.
You can’t pause your life. Your job will still be just as demanding. Your kids won’t need you any less. And your friends will still want to socially interact. Having to constantly choose between your loved one’s comfort and your own life is mentally taxing.
A professional caregiver changes everything. This is the power of respite care. Knowing your loved one is provided for will help you overcome your guilt. Knowing you need help and finding it, you’re actually doing the right thing for both you and your loved one.
“The Talk” is Easier With Stories
Needing to bring in outside help? Ease into the conversation with your loved one about home care.
You may start with small tasks like hiring a neighbor kid to cut the grass at your parent’s home; to set a precedent that it’s okay to hire someone to help.
If you have friends who sometimes have meals made for their family or who have hired a personal trainer and love it—tell those stories. Bringing the subject matter up even in these tangential ways can help get you ready for the big conversation, but it also may open their minds to the idea of home care.
Don’t push too hard at first, but keep it a dialogue and be sure to listen. Really listen to your loved one. When your parent starts to become more used to the idea, talk specifics.
If your parent completely balks at the idea, you may need to have someone else share a story. Does your mom or dad have a friend who has in-home help? Sharing stories of people like them in their situation can help normalize the idea of in-home help.
What Not to Say
Exhaustion makes patience quite difficult. But remember that your parent’s moodiness is likely linked to shame and sadness about what’s happening—it’s not a judgment on your care, no matter how often it may feel that way.
Those acting as caregivers for an aging parent often feel guilty for not being able to fix the situation or do it all. And when responsibilities are not evenly shared between siblings, this can lead to even more tension.
The best solution: Leave all of that at the door. This conversation should not be an all-out airing of grievances. It should be about calmly coming to an agreement about a solution that will make everyone’s life happier—bringing on an in-home caregiver.
Finding the Right Caregiver
First and foremost, you need a good listener. Before there’s any care plan or consultation, you need someone who will just listen. A professional will consult with you and ask the right questions to help you understand what you and your loved one are going through.
This is a great opportunity to find the perfect match. You know your loved one better than anyone, so simply look for a good match. Personalities, hobbies, interests – with these in mind, you can enlist the services of not only a professional caregiver, but also a perfect fit inside the home.
The first caregiver visit can be overwhelming for your loved one. Go into that day with the promise — and stick to it — that you can try several caregivers before choosing a permanent one, and that your parent’s comfort will be the deciding factor in your final choice.
But do what you can to reduce that number of trials by asking questions first.
For example: If your mom were to need help bathing, would she be comfortable with a male caregiver? Even though all caretakers are professionals, this is a generational and personal preference that many have. Does your dad prefer someone energetic and talkative, or does he respond better to calm and soothing?
Remember that this person will be coming into the home — and keeping company with Mom or Dad at times when you can’t be there—and you want to get as much benefit and happiness out of the arrangement as possible.
Return to Your Role as a Son or Daughter Again
So how do you restore the relationship you had before you became caregiver?
Some of it will happen naturally. As the caregiver assumes more responsibility, you’ll feel less responsible for everything and more like a son or daughter again. Consider those happy memories from your pre-caregiver days. Is there anything you can recreate?
Even though Mom or Dad may now have mobility or dietary restrictions, think of ways to revisit some of those important memories, whether it’s dinner at a certain restaurant, visiting a nearby park or even just watching a favorite movie together. Simple acts like this can help to quickly re-establish a relationship.
Beyond that, you’ll have the time and energy to take better care of yourself and find more balance in your life that will strengthen you mentally and emotionally and allow you to be more present in conversation with your parent. You might find yourself looking forward to visiting mom or dad more, as it becomes less of a stress or burden and more of a joy and expression of love.
There are challenges ahead, and the more support you have, the better.