To Be or Not to Be: Your Parents’ Caregiver

A June 2007 USA Today/ABC News/Gallup Poll found that forty-one percent of U.S. baby boomers who have living mothers or fathers are helping to care for them. Most of those polled, who are caregivers, said they felt it was a minor sacrifice or no sacrifice at all. However, 37% of the people surveyed, who aren’t currently caregivers but had aging parents, said that they expect to be caregivers for their parents in the future; about 50% were worried about being able to provide care. (Read the full article.)

If you’re suited to the role of caregiver and filling that role gives you satisfaction, you’ll probably find that caring for your aging parents can be a rewarding experience and may bring families closer together.

The USA Today article doesn’t say what the 50% of adults worry about with regard to becoming a caregiver. I suspect some of them aren’t sure this is a job they want to take on. Care giving is not for everyone. However, many adult children with aging parents believe they should take care of their aging parents; that it’s their duty.

If you aren’t cut out for the role of caregiver, I’d encourage you not take it on. Why? Because it’s unlikely you’ll be good at it and you, and your parents, will suffer. There is a high emotional price to pay when you do something you don’t want to do and that you don’t enjoy. Your parents also pay a price. They may not get adequate care simply because you don’t have it in you. There is also the stress on both of you and possible damage to your relationship.

You and your parents are better off hiring someone to provide the care they need. Another option for your parents is moving to a facility that can provide more help as they need it, assuming they can afford this.

Sitting down with your parents and telling them you aren’t cut out to be their caregiver will likely be a tough discussion. I’ve worked with clients who came to realize they weren’t the best person to take on the role of caregiver for their parents and felt a lot of guilt and shame about this. Once we addressed those feelings and they were able to let go of them or, recognize them when they came up and deal with them, they were able to talk with their parents.

In helping clients prepare for difficult conversations, I encourage them to be open and honest about how they feel. It’s also important for them to speak in terms of how it affects them.

Once all the cards are on the table, families can put together a plan that meets the needs of their aging parents, reduces the stress of the adult child (or children), and maintains, or even improves the parent-child relationship.

Being the care provider for an elderly parent is an act of love. Recognizing that care giving isn’t for you and helping find someone who can provide that care is also an act of love.

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