Almost exactly nine months after the end of World War 11, more babies were born than ever before. This was the beginning of a ‘baby boom’ and the title of ‘baby boomers’ is given to all those born between 1946 and 1964. These ‘baby boomers’ are now 52 to 70 years of age. They are at the age where many of them are caring for their elderly parents, even though some of them still have children of their own living at home. The children of others have left the nest but their caring days are not over because their parents now need their help.
Caring for aging parents can be extremely stressful – physically and emotionally. This stress that we experience when our parents begin to age often catches us unawares. When babies are born, it’s a joyful experience and we often receive plenty of support. We go to classes, read child care books and greet the arrival of the baby with joy. Taking care of children can be very taxing but it carries with it the satisfaction and creativity of preparing them for independence. It is often hard work but we want to see them develop and we do all we can to ‘launch’ the next generation.
We tend to receive less support when caring for our aging parents. We want our parents to continue to live independent and productive lives for as long as they can. We want them to be as comfortable and as happy as possible in their golden years. But this can be a difficult task, especially as they start to lose their independence and begin relying on us more and more. As their children we are often their prime source of support, despite the fact that carers may be employed to take care of some of the physical burden and technological advances can solve some of the other problems. Fortunately, this kind of help is available but that does not relieve us of the emotional burden. This is a burden we have to be prepared to carry – after all, they carried us for many years.
We also have to face the fact that our parents are going to die at some point and that they usually go through a process of deterioration first. We can’t avoid the fact that they are approaching the end of their lives. I would love more than anything to arrest my mother’s aging process and keep her in a healthy state where she can enjoy life forever and I can always have her around. I don’t think we are ever ready to face the fact that our parents are approaching death. It is hard to face but we have a deal with it so we can make the most of the years we have left together. Another reason why it’s difficult to face is because it reminds us of our own mortality.
Accept role reversal
The parents that supported us, sacrificed for us and always took care of us are now relying on us. It is heartrending for us to see the frailness of a father who battles to walk when he used to be vigorous and strong. Our hearts sink when a mother tells the same story over and over and we realize her memory is failing. We see mental processes becoming slower, limbs getting weaker and some of us even have to face the fact that our parents are swiftly heading towards the point where they no longer recognize us. It’s our turn to be the strong ones and the ones who sacrifice.
Become a good listener
In caring for our parents, they do not just need physical help. We need to make sure that they are taking their medicine and eating properly but we are not just maids, chauffeurs and cooks. What our parents usually want more than anything else is the chance to communicate with us. We are the ones who are closest to them and we understand their fears and concerns. The emotional support we provide is often so much more important than the physical help.
They will often store up little anecdotes to share with us and it is important for us to become good listeners. Some compassion, patience and listening carefully to what they have to say will make their day. My mom and I have a ritual – we are both tea lovers so the first item on the agenda is always to sit and enjoy a cup of tea before we do anything else. This gives us the opportunity to catch up on all the latest family happenings and discuss trivialities. I enjoy listening to her stories and we often share a laugh together.
Make technology easier to manage
Most elderly parents battle with technology – it does not come naturally to them like it does for generations who grew up with computers. Gadgets with all kinds of buttons and options often pose a challenge, particularly if eyesight is failing and fingers are not so nimble anymore. It may help to invest in devices with larger buttons designed for seniors like a senior-friendly remote control with a simple design or cell phone with large print and high-volume levels for older ears. We have to be very careful not to make them feel stupid and inept when dealing with the latest technology. Writing out a list of clear instructions may help.
Recently my mother fell for a scam where she was conned into giving a caller her bank details and guided to install spyware on her computer – this was after I had warned her time and time again about scams like this. When she eventually admitted what she had done, a few choice expletives popped out of my mouth. I soon repented for being angry because I realized how ashamed she was of her own ‘stupidity’. We need to be careful what we say in situations like this because our words can cause damage to the relationship. As exasperating as elderly parents can be at times, we need to think before we speak.
It’s easy to become so involved in dealing with our elderly parents that it’s hard to tell where their life ends and ours begins. If we don’t learn to set some healthy boundaries, we can begin to feel as though we have no life. Sometimes we can even fall into the trap of playing the martyr rather than making tough decisions about our own lives. We use the fact that we have to help them as a way to avoid our own problems.
Help them keep their dignity
I believe that the worst thing we can do to our parents as they age is to treat them like children. If we boss them around, tell them how to behave, and nag them about their habits we deprive them of their dignity. We need to put ourselves in their shoes and reflect on how we would like to be treated at their age. We can take joy in knowing that, in a way, we are giving back to those strong parents who never spared any expense or time for us when we were growing up. They deserve our devotion and dedication so that they can continue to have a full and independent life for as long as possible.