Parents age, children grow up, and eventually, adult children come face to face with the harsh reality that they will have to care for their aging parents, completely reversing the roles they’ve always known.
The Role of the Adult Child in Caregiving
When the time comes for adult children to take on this new responsibility, they are often confronted with difficult decisions regarding the care of their parents during the final stages of their lives. There are numerous questions that need answers: What type of care is required? How can their medical needs be met? Where will their parents feel most comfortable?
This situation can be quite stressful. Adult children find themselves caught in the delicate balance of being a son or daughter while simultaneously becoming a personal care aide or caregiver for their parents. In some cases, they might even experience role reversal, where the aging parent relies on the adult child to make decisions on their behalf, particularly when faced with early-stage dementia or a debilitating illness.
Why are Adult Children Ill-Prepared?
Being prepared for the moment when they must assume the responsibility of caregiving for their aging parents is extremely challenging for most adult children. Accepting the fact that their parents are losing their mobility, decision-making abilities, or even their firm grip on their daily lives is not easy. Coming to terms with this reality can be overwhelming and eye-opening. As a result, some adult children are simply not ready to witness the aging process in their parents and will try to avoid taking on the responsibility altogether.
Caring for aging parents brings about significant stress. Adult children often find themselves juggling the financial, household, healthcare, and long-term planning duties for two separate households. They may discover that their parents are financially insecure, and they must also contend with interpersonal pressures within the family as siblings and other relatives may disagree with the decisions made by the adult child in regard to their parents.
What Challenges Do Adult Children Face?
Adult children can suddenly find themselves thrust into the nerve-wracking position of becoming an impromptu healthcare “expert” for their parents. Many lack the experience, knowledge, or time to make well-informed decisions regarding healthcare. They may also face the pressure of maintaining harmony among siblings and other family members while ensuring the comfort and well-being of their aging parents.
Parenting Your Parents
Knowing when to step in as a caregiver for your parents can be a daunting task for adult children. In ideal circumstances, the parents recognize their need for assistance and reach out for help on their own. In other cases, the transition to the caregiver role occurs gradually as parents age, especially in situations where early dementia or disabilities start to impede their abilities.
An adult child might find themselves needing to take away their parents’ car keys, assisting with personal care and meal preparation, or helping them make daily decisions. Questions like “Where are you going?” and “Who are you with?” become increasingly common as parents age.
What Can’t Adult Children Do?
Grown children want the reassurance of knowing that they are providing their parents with the same compassionate, caring, and supportive care that was once bestowed upon them. However, they are only human and have their own limitations. They simply cannot do everything.
Caregiving can be heartbreaking and exhausting. Often, all the parent desires is for the adult child to assume responsibility and do whatever it takes to care for them—just as the parent once did for their child.
Self-Care Techniques for Adult Children
Caring for aging parents can be both rewarding and emotionally draining. Adult children do not have to shoulder the burden alone. It is crucial to explore all the available care options for aging parents, such as assisted living, adult day care, nursing home care, or in-home care.
Equally important is for adult children to prioritize self-care, especially if they are the primary caregiver for their parents. Studies have shown that the stress of caregiving can negatively impact the health of the caregiver in the long run. Taking time to rest and decompress is essential.
Maintaining open communication with family members is also crucial, as it allows other relatives to provide respite care for the adult child who bears the majority of the caregiving responsibility and decision-making for their aging parents. Technological advancements, particularly in remote monitoring, offer ways for caregivers to grant their parents more independence while still keeping track of their well-being.
AARP is an excellent and comprehensive resource for family caregivers. It offers educational materials and valuable insights into the challenges of caring for aging parents from the perspective of the family caregiver/adult child.
Parenting one’s own parents is a situation no adult child wishes to find themselves in. However, the aging process often necessitates assuming that role. It is important to remember that caregivers have a duty to care for themselves as well. They should educate themselves about the community resources and care options available for their parents and never hesitate to seek help when needed.
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