“It is not flesh and blood but the heart which makes us fathers and sons.”
— Johann Schiller
If we are very fortunate, our parents will live to a ripe old age. And in exchange for the gift of enjoying the older loved ones in our families, many of us will eventually accept some level of responsibility for their well-being. Caring for an older family member or friend can be both an honor and a challenge. (And let’s remember that being cared for by others – even by our children – can be a challenge, as well.)
Many caregivers struggle with important questions about handling delicate situations with their parents. When you don the family caregiver hat, you will likely be faced with a multitude of decisions, and perhaps some tricky family dynamics, too. For example, your parent may need help with managing medications and prescriptions, scheduling appointments with doctors, household chores, grocery shopping and preparing meals.
But in addition to these types of tasks, you may also be faced with broader and more complicated questions. Is it safe for my parent to continue living alone? Are his or her changing behaviors a sign of dementia? How can I help my parents if they don’t live nearby? And how can I get them to accept some help from me, and from professionals? All of these questions can be perplexing — and when you add the thoughts and opinions of siblings and family members, it can feel overwhelming.
Care-giving can be as simple as mowing a parent’s yard – or it can become more complex. It can require some finesse. When you find yourself wearing the family caregiver hat, I encourage you to remember a key point which will help smooth your path: start with respect.
Loving your parents enough to become involved in their welfare, to want the best for them – isn’t that based in love and respect? And yet, at times caregivers may find that they begin to see themselves as the parent, not the child. Frequently they will ask for guidance on when they should step in and begin making decisions on their parents’ behalf.
Here’s the short answer: Only when your parent’s decisions have the immediate potential to harm themselves or others. Remember that your parent is an adult, and treat them with the same level of respect you did as a child. (Unless you were an unruly child – then give them more!) If your parents’ decisions are not creating a risk of harm for them or others, you can show them your respect by accepting and honoring their decisions, even if you disagree.
Forgetting to turn off the stove is a reason to be concerned about your parent’s welfare. But storing clean dishes on the counter where they’re easy to reach, rather than the cabinet, is not.
Another chance for caregivers to show respect arrives when parents do, in fact, need a bit more care. Perhaps they need some paid help at home, or maybe it’s time to consider new living arrangements. These, too, are decisions which your parents should contribute to for as long as they are able.
And finally, remember to start with respect in dealing with siblings and other family members. Just as your concern for your parents’ well-being is based in love and respect, acknowledge that theirs is, as well. Even when opinions differ about what’s best for your folks, it’s important that all opinions and concerns are heard and considered. (A family meeting is a good way to get the communication flowing, and I’ll share some advice on how to facilitate that in my next article.) Show your siblings respect by ensuring that their opinions are heard.
There is an art to care-giving. It can be a balance between facts and feelings, both for you and your parent, and a thoughtful approach helps everyone navigate new waters successfully.
My staff at SourcePoint has a wealth of knowledge and expertise, which is available to you with a simple phone call to our office or by visiting our website. But rather than waiting for you to call, this is the first in a series of articles and our effort to make that expertise available to you. Think it over, discuss it, and share it with your friends and neighbors who may need the information right now, even if you don’t.
If you are caring for an older parent and need some support, call us and ask to speak with Sara, our caregiver program coordinator. She can listen and offer advice and resources to help – like our caregiver support groups and classes, and referrals to resources which can help you and your family. You can reach us at 740-363-6677 or at www.MySourcePoint.org.
Bob Horrocks is executive director of SourcePoint.