As your parents age, your relationship with them begins to change. You may notice the changes in subtle ways first, as they begin to need more help with things like housework and transportation.
As they grow older, however, they may need more frequent assistance with daily responsibilities. You may notice that they don’t have fresh food in the refrigerator, that they don’t bathe or wash their hair as often as they should, or that they need help remembering to take medicine or go to the doctor.
These changes can be very emotionally challenging both for you and for your parents. Your mom or dad may feel frustrated with the limitations age brings, and you may feel conflicted about your changing role. It’s important to work through difficult emotions as they arise, so you can maintain a strong, healthy relationship with your parents as they face the challenges of aging.
How to Nurture a Strong Relationship With Aging Parents
Building or maintaining healthy relationships with your parents while also acting as a caregiver may not always be straightforward, especially if they are reluctant to give up their independence. Let’s take a look at three steps that will help you navigate the process.
#1. Be Intentional About Your Goals for the Relationship
Don’t expect everything to work out perfectly right from the start. You may have challenges to work through before you and your parents both feel comfortable with the changing aspects of your relationship. Ask these questions to develop positive goals:
- What is your relationship currently like? Are you very close to your parents, or has there been strain in the relationship in the past? Do they allow you to help them or do they prefer to do everything on their own?
- What parts of your relationship are you proud of? Have you always been able to share your heart with your mom? Do you call your Dad every day to check on him or visit regularly? Have you stayed close to your parents over the years?
- What would you like to change? Would you like to visit more frequently? Do you wish they would confide in you or let you help them more?
These questions will help you pinpoint the areas of your relationship that you would like to strengthen, particularly if your parents need help with things they are used to handling on their own. Build on the strong parts of your relationship, and identify some specific goals you could reasonably achieve.
For example, if you have always been close to your parents, use that closeness to express concern when you notice an area where they need help. If you have not been close to them, but you are skilled in an area where they have a need (like finances), emphasize your knowledge of that area and ask them to allow you to show your love to them by helping.
#2. Set Specific Goals
Once you have worked through your relationship strengths and areas for improvement, you can set specific, achievable goals. Remember, these goals should be reasonable based on your current relationship, the time you have to invest, and your parents’ willingness to accept assistance. Here are a few examples of the kinds of goals you might consider:
- Deepen relationship -Think about how close you are to your parents now compared with how close you would like to be. Then, consider specific ways you can promote a closer relationship. For example, you might schedule a time each week to call and ask how they are doing. During the call, plan some things you want to ask or talk about favorite memories and current experiences.
- Increase quality time - Quality time is time set aside to focus on your mom or dad without other distractions. Think about some activities or outings your parents enjoy and schedule times to do those things together.
- Assist with finances - Many elderly people struggle to keep up with finances as they age. Set up a time to talk with your parents about their financial situation and ask what bank they use. This information will be essential if your mom or dad has a health emergency that prevents them from making financial decisions on their own. If they feel uncomfortable sharing their finances with you, start with a smaller goal such as offering assistance with balancing the checkbook or making sure legal documents are current.
- Research family history - If you want to learn more about your family history, start by doing some research and making a list of questions you’d like to ask your parents. It’s often helpful to work with a company that can help you document what you learn using voice recordings, photography, or video transitioning. Many companies will consolidate photos and VHS recordings onto a CD or DVD for easier and safer storage.
#3. Create a List of Doable Steps
Realize that it may take time to nurture the kind of relationship you want to have with your parents, especially if they tend to be private people or if they struggle with needing help. Keep these thoughts in mind as you create a list of incremental steps toward your goals.
- Don’t try to do too much at once. Give your parents and yourself time to adjust. Remember, they are facing many changes that may be difficult for them to process.
- Realize that change comes over time. You may be ready to spend more quality time with your parents or handle their finances, but they may not be quite ready to take those steps yet. Be understanding of the emotional struggles they may be experiencing as they face the possibility of losing their independence.
- Be OK with changing up the plan. Don’t worry if everything doesn’t go exactly as you envisioned it. You can adjust your goals and your plan as you go. Be patient, and remember that relationship-building is a process, not a one-time effort.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask For Help With Taking Care of Aging Parents
The responsibility of acting as both a son or daughter and a caregiver can be difficult to balance. If you struggle to do both, don’t hesitate to ask for help. Getting assistance with caregiving responsibilities so that you can focus on your relationship with your mom or dad may be the best step you can take.