Seeing a parent struggle with age-related conditions, whether cognitive or physical, is an extremely difficult thing. When we are young it’s impossible to envision our parents as unable to perform certain tasks; but as life goes on and our parents continue to age, they need us to provide them with care and support.
In the business, exhaustion and stress that comes with being a caregiver, respecting aging parents can sometimes be unintentionally placed on the back burner.
Respecting Aging Parents
Below are considerations to keep in mind when supporting aging parents:
1. Be Considerate, Always
An article published by Forbes suggests asking your parents their feelings and opinions on matters, rather than assuming: “nothing shows less respect than assuming you know what your parent wants, without actually asking.” Many adult children think they know what is best for their parents, whether that is to surrender their license after they reach a certain age or move into an assisted living community if they experience a fall at home; however, Forbes firmly states that “as long as they are cognitively able to make decisions, frail seniors have the right to make their own choices. Even if you disagree with them. That’s what respect is all about.”
2. Calm Your Emotions
Supporting another person is not easy. Many caregivers can relate to feelings of annoyance and frustration that often creep in when dealing with a loved one’s age-related issues. While experiencing feelings of irritation are natural and normal, be careful not to express them outwardly to your parent. It is important to keep in mind that no matter how justifiable your level of irritation is, you must take a step back, regain control and then consider your parents’ feelings on the matter. Seniors with memory issues often are unaware that they are ‘slipping,’ and this realization can be terrifying and upsetting. It is not fair to impose your own irritation on them.
3. Empower and Support
Many adult children struggle with the belief that their parents are making the wrong decisions, or worse, they don’t have the ability to make decisions for themselves anymore. Forbes and many other reputable publications make it clear that as long as your parent is cognitively sound, he or she should be at the center of decision making and their choices should be respected.
When family members do not respect this notion, it causes concern and upset from both the aging parent and their children. The Huffington Post article describes an unfortunate incident regarding adult children who were concerned about their mother’s driving skills: “my well-meaning family members went behind my mother’s back and made her car “disappear,” sending it to the shop for fabricated “repairs.” My mother was so upset to discover her car was MIA that she tried to get an old farm truck going and wound up backing into a tree. So the ruse of the missing car did far more damage than a simple face-to-face conversation would have done.” Had this conversation been handled another way, with the adult children expressing their concerns in a calm, open and respectful manner, the results would have been very different.
4. Never Forget
No matter the age or medical condition of your parent, it is important to always remember that they are your parent and they have value. Parents spend decades of their lives caring for their children and sacrificing their own goals and happiness for those of their children. By keeping in mind the sacrifices that your parents made for you, it allows you to be more mindful and respectful when caring for them in their senior years.
5. Practice Honest and Open Communication
Often, the tone we use to communicate with our aging parents, as well as language used across the internet and in self-help books, paints seniors in a negative light, as “children,” lacking ability and competence. Phrases such as “parenting your parents” or “you have become your parents and they have become your children” creates a divide between aging parents and their children and breaks down communication. Forbes explains: “starting a conversation with, “Mom, you have to…” not only shows a profound lack of respect, it is a recipe for failure. You wouldn’t start a conversation with a spouse that way (at last you wouldn’t if you wanted to accomplish anything).”
An article entitled “Respecting Our Elderly Parents,” by the Huffington Post, agrees, condemning the idea of treating senior parents like children: “Why is it so difficult to have a considerate and compassionate talk, stating the facts in a way that acknowledges the parent is still an adult, not a child to be tricked?” Instead, the article suggests talking to your parents, even when topics are difficult, “in a way that lets them know they are a competent adult, still worthy of your love and respect.” This includes conversations about your fears and worries, as well as your wishes for them.
You are far more likely to be met with a positive response when expressing your concerns in a loving manner rather than barking expectations and orders.
As a caregiver, in what ways do you show respect for your parents? We’d like to hear your stories and suggestions in the comments below.
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