Simple Ways to Help Your Aging Parents Know They Are Still Valued Members of the Family
One thing I always had my drivers do when they went to pick up a new client was to ask them if they had a route they’d like us to use. You’d be amazed by how excited they were to share their secret shortcuts. It wasn’t just about getting to a destination quicker – sometimes it actually took longer – it was about making them feel like an active contributor on their ride. A lot of times, as a person gets older, they lose some of their “clout” in the family.
People start making decisions for them. Family members stop coming to them for advice. They struggle with a change in role from decision maker to being told what they can and can’t do. That’s just the social side. Add in all of the physical changes that come with aging and you can imagine how difficult the transition can be. It is far worse than puberty!
Fortunately, there are ways to help your aging parent feel like a valued member of your family. You probably don’t realize that some of the things you do make them feel like a child or like they no longer contribute. Think about the progression of roles. They used to tell you want to do, when to do it and how to do it. Then you became an adult and you probably still came to them for advice on what to do or how to do something. Then suddenly, a switch flips and you are telling them what they can and can’t do and what they should and shouldn’t do. That’s a big change!
Simple Ways To Help Aging Parents Feel Valued
If you don’t realize that you’ve made your aging parent feel that their role is diminished, here are some things you’ve probably done unintentionally:
- Do you make decisions for them without bothering to speak with them first? For example, did you just decide mom needs a cleaning service and send someone over? Or do you make medical appointments for your parent without even speaking to them? Of course, if they have limitations due to cognitive decline, you may be making these decisions in their best interest, but you can still have a discussion with them first, before springing it on them.
- Did you take over family holidays before they were ready to pass the torch? You may have thought you were doing them a favor because hosting an event is stressful, but maybe they weren’t quite ready to pass the torch. You can still include them by cooking together, hosting the event in their home, or if they aren’t able to cook, having them “walk you through” their recipes.
- Do you just do things for them because it’s faster? Give them time to do things their way. Yes, it may take longer, but really, is the time saved more valuable than their feelings?
Now that I’ve shared some don’ts, here are some dos:
- Ask them for help.
- Ask for their advice.
- Include your aging parent in decisions – especially when it relates to them!
- Ask them to teach you something – a recipe, a skill, gardening techniques, etc.
- Don’t make sweeping decisions about their life without involving them in the discussion – even if ultimately the final decision will be made for their safety.
- Include your aging parent in your life. Don’t keep your problems from them because you don’t want to upset them. They want to be included in your life, not just talk about their health and safety all the time.
- Help them find new things they’re good at or learn new hobbies (maybe try new things together).
- Treat your aging parent the way you hope your children will treat you when you are their age.
I really never realized how much we all marginalize our aging parents until I saw it done frequently with pretty much all of my clients. Some adult children were guilty of taking away their parent’s car without even having a discussion about it. Now, I’m not saying that their parents shouldn’t have stopped driving, it was probably necessary for everyone’s safety, but they probably should have at least had a conversation to give them a heads up.
Worse yet, I had some clients whose adult children were so consumed by their caregiving role that they never spoke of anything outside of caregiving topics (their health, their safety, etc.). Trust me, your parents want to hear the mundane details of your life. Your college-age kid got a job? Awesome, tell your mom. She’ll share the news with all of her friends. Little things like this help your aging parent feel more connected and less like a patient.
One of my favorite clients was a woman who used to be a school superintendent. She had worked in education all her life but when I met her, she was blind and had a lot of physical challenges. Words can’t express how she lit up when I talked to her about things I observed at my son’s elementary school.
She loved to give input on things like facilities maintenance and the qualities of a good teacher. It had been years since anyone “talked shop” with her and it really brightened her day, if not week. Are there things you can talk about with your parents that can put them back in that position of authority? Maybe you won’t take their advice, but you’ll definitely make their day!