Guilt Can Be Harmful When Caring For Aging Parents

When the needs of aging parents increase, adult children often experience a range of emotions. In future issues of my newsletter I’ll address some of the most common emotional struggles with which my clients are dealing. This month I’m going to focus on guilt.

Below are two of the most common worries my clients have concerning their aging parents; an example of how my clients have responded to these worries; the reactions from their parents and a suggestion for another way of dealing with these feelings of guilt.

The first worry: Mom or Dad may come to some harm and I’ll feel terrible or others will think badly of me.

Adult children often see only one option when they feel guilty about their ability to keep their parent safe: to tell them what to do and they do this with the best of intentions. However, the number one fear of older adults is losing their independence and often, adult children trigger that fear when they tell their elderly parents what to do.

Aging parents usually react to being told what to do in one of two ways:

  • • they become less willing to share information about their health or struggle to continue to live independently. The result is typically some sort accident or crisis, exactly the outcome the adult child was hoping to prevent.
  • • they give in to their kids’ demands and go along to get along. They may become unhappy, depressed and withdrawn.

A different, three-pronged, approach:

  1. Share your concerns with your parents. Use “I” as much as possible since the word “you” tends to make others defensive and they stop listening.
  2. Ask your parents for their ideas on how to solve the problem. This step is a process. It’s unrealistic to expect that one conversation is all it will take to arrive at a solution.
  3. Be willing to compromise. Is it more important that your parents make some changes or that nothing changes? Listening and respecting your parent’s opinions can also increase the chances they’ll be willing to make further changes in the future.

The second worry: Mom or Dad will feel abandoned if I don’t call or visit frequently.

This belief is especially common when a parent moves into assisted living or a nursing home. The stage may also be set for this if, when your parent was still living independently, you needed to check in often to see how they were doing or to provide help.

The result:

  • Mom or Dad doesn’t make friends or get involved in activities or events where they live. They may become dependent on their kids for entertainment and socialization and understandably, rely on them more.
  • The adult child can’t keep up the frequent visits; they feel trapped when they see how much Mom or Dad depends on them and then become resentful.
  • Time spent with aging parents isn’t enjoyable; it’s a chore.

When a parent first moves into a new living situation, visiting a few times a week, or checking in by phone can be helpful, for the first few weeks, as they adjust. Ask how they’re settling in and about activities they’re taking part in and new friends they’re making. If you find that your parent is not getting out, discuss this with the administrator. Enlist their help in getting your parent involved rather than taking it on yourself. At the same time, slowly taper visits down to an amount that is realistic to maintain and that allows you to enjoy the time you spend with your parent.

If you’ve already set the expectation that you will visit often, consider sharing with them how much difficulty you’re having meeting all your obligations and ask their permission to visit less. There are two reasons to approach it this way.

      1. they may be relieved that you won’t be coming as often

     2. you’re asking for their help and parents generally want to help their children

Helping parents as they age is challenging. Most adult children have the best of intentions when they provide help. Becoming aware of what motivates your behavior and that of your parents can reduce the stress on all of you and help to keep communication channels open.

Would you like to talk about your specific situation?

Email, call or text (503) 243-2283.

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