There comes a time in life when we grow as adults, and our parents, who were always there for us, need us to be there for them. For many adult children, this is a difficult transition to make. Finding that our parents are no longer the people we thought they were, adjusting to the reversal in our roles and even understanding that physical and mental changes may result in personality changes in our parents is often something which we want to deny and avoid dealing with. However, in order to continue to be able to relate to each other as a family, we need to meet these challenges directly and find ways to understand and help our parents as they age.
What Issues are Your Parents Likely to Experience?
As your parents age, they will struggle with many issues. Understanding them is a first step to helping your parents transition too.
A Sense of Loss
One of the biggest things which elderly people tend to experience, is a sense of loss. These losses are multiple and appear in many areas of their lives. Some of the most common of these are:
Loss of financial independence after retirement
Death of friends and relatives and increasing social isolation
Loss of mobility and capability through poorer health
Loss of importance and position within the family
Loss of meaning and purpose in life
Values and Expectations
Elderly people also struggle because sometimes their values and expectations of how they will spend their old age may not match what society or their children expect of them. Many elderly parents expect to be respected, viewed as an important advisor within the family, continue to be valued, have independence and freedom to do as they wish, and be cared for attentively.
Time, finances, or even their children’s desires may mean that there is a mismatch between their expectations and their daily lives and routines. This can lead to significant unhappiness, misunderstanding and stress within the family.
What Can You Do?
As a filial child, you will want to help your parents as much as possible. But the chances are, that you yourself are in a phase of heightened responsibility in your own life. Your children are probably in their teens and need extra guidance, you need to work hard to save for your own retirement, your kids’ educational needs and also your parents health needs, and at the same time you feel emotionally stretched. The temptation to ignore your parents is probably a great one. However, doing so is likely to make it harder to connect as a family and will, in the long run, increase the degree of stress and unhappiness for you and your parents.
There are of course, several things which you can do to make life better both for yourself, and also for your elderly parents. Here are some steps which you can take.
Understand the Issues of Aging
Learn about the issues they are facing; what to expect and how to help your parents adapt and accommodate to the changes which they are experiencing. Be sensitive to the fact that your parents are in an entirely different lifestage – one you have never experienced. Don’t assume you know what it is about. Keep in mind that their responses and opinions come from a different perspective.
Listen and Be a Confidant
Realise your older family members’ need for having someone to confide in, for reassurance and care, to receive affection and respect and to discuss problems does not changes as they grow older. Be available and offer words of support.
Ask your parents to share their current experience as an older person. Listen. You will likely learn a lot that may help you with your own ageing, help you understand what they are going through and how to support them.
Examine Your Expectations
Examine your expectations of your parents now that they are retired. Do you expect them to take care of your children when you work? Have you talked to them about this? What do they expect to do now that they have retired? Are there differences between what you expect and what they expect?
Be Kind, Patient and Respectful
Just because you may be more capable today or believe you know better, it doesn’t mean that you have the right to belittle or treat your parents with less consideration and respect. Be sensitive to who they are as people and continue to respect them and treat them with care and patience. Don’t tell them what to do and accept them for who they are. If eventually, they disagree with your views, accept that this is their right as adults and individuals too and take responsibility for the choices you make for yourself.