Your parents likely won't get better.
Generally, optimism is a great thing. But it can also lead to frustration and disappointment when things don’t work out the way you thought they should. This is often the case with elder care.
Children start caring for their parents because their parents are in poor health. This can be physical health, mental health or both. Even if they don’t say it out loud, many caregivers believe that by looking after their parents they’ll be able to help them make slow but steady improvements back to good health.
Usually, though, this isn’t the case. Your parents can only get older, and the issues that have caused their physical and/or mental health problems will continue. Even if you’re lucky enough to see some improvements, ultimately decline is inevitable.
What you can do: In this situation, it’s important to accept what you can and can’t do. Accept that you can’t “save” them from old age and focus instead on more realistic goals like making sure your parents are comfortable and giving them some positive experiences during their final years.
The power dynamics have changed.
When you’re a child, your parents seem like the most powerful beings in the world. You depend on them, and they take care of you. Now, the roles have switched. You no longer see your parents as gods, but mortals. And instead of depending on them, you’re taking care of them and they’re depending on you.
This means the roles you grew up with have flipped. And the way you’ve learned to interact and relate to one another may not apply anymore.
What you can do: Adapt. If the old ways of interacting don’t work, accept that this is a new but natural stage of parent/child relationships and find a new way that you can relate, interact, and work together.
Your parents may get angry.
No one likes to lose power, but that’s what happens to parents when their kids start taking care of them. Of course, that’s not your fault. You’re doing an awesome, loving thing. And most likely your parents know that. But it’s also likely that due to the emotional, illogical reasoning we humans so often employ, your parents will lash out at some point.
What you can do: First, don’t let it get to you. It’s a thing that happens and you won’t be the first or last child to experience it. Second, let your parents be as independent as they can, including letting them make decisions about their care. Third, ask your parents for advice on something. It doesn’t really matter what. But it will show them you still respect their opinion, and they’re still an authority in your life despite the recent role changes.
Your parents may get scammed.
Scammers are not widely known for their ethical treatment of the elderly. In fact, they’ll often go after elderly targets specifically, as seniors are often more susceptible to deception and high pressure sales techniques.
What you can do: Educate your parents on the most common scams that target elders, and request that they go over any major financial decisions with you before making them.
And if your parent does get scammed, be sure to report this to the police. Hopefully, the scammers will be shut down and even if your parents don’t get their money back, you’ll be protecting other seniors from the same fate.
Your siblings may become your enemies.
A parent in declining health is a tough situation for everyone, including you and your siblings. A big issue that often comes up is splitting the parents’ possessions. This applies to both small childhood mementos and larger (at least financially) assets.
What you can do: Talk to your parents about preparing a will and outlining who gets what, to reduce potential conflict later. And if conflicts with your siblings do arise, be willing to compromise and remember that money’s not worth severing relationships or losing your dignity over.
There may not be any emotional breakthroughs.
Another thing caregivers often expect is some type of emotional breakthrough. They think the issues they and their parents have will finally get resolved. After all, if not now, when?
Unfortunately, in real life we don’t always get closure on our relationship issues. If these breakthroughs happen, that’s awesome. But often instead of loosening people up and making them more likely to talk about relationship issues, old age just makes people more stubborn.
What you can do: This is another annoying problem where there isn’t much to do other than accept that things are the way they are. If there’s something you want to discuss with your parents, try. But if they’re not willing to open up, that’s that.
You'll likely have a rewarding experience.
Often, children reluctantly go into caregiving, perhaps out of a sense of duty, perhaps out of love, or likely due to a wide variety of reasons. Many fear that the experience will be negative, and for good reason. No doubt, is caregiving hard work and stressful. But according to a survey by the Washington Post, despite all these hardships the vast majority of caregivers find it be a psychologically rewarding experience.
What you can do: To increase your likelihood of this surprising but hoped for outcome, remember you have loved ones you can turn to - spouse, siblings, friends - when you’re feeling overwhelmed. You may also want to join a support group for caregivers, so you can talk with and learn from other people in the same situation.
Remember to take care of yourself, both physically and emotionally. Don’t forget to exercise. If you’re religious, don’t forget to pray. If you’re not, consider meditating. And most of all, remember to have fun with your parents.
Though it isn’t easy, caregiving is a good thing to do and can be very psychologically rewarding. If you have questions on any specific medical conditions your parents face, you can browse our Medical Resource Center by topic or ask one of our experts. We also recommend checking out our bedroom and bathroom safety products, and daily living aids for seniors.