It’s an odd moment the first time you notice your dad’s hair is completely grey, or you see your mom get a little winded after walking up the stairs. As children, we often see our parents as invincible and full of life, but as adults, we face the reality that our parents change and age.
This life transition can be tough for parents and adult children alike. These tips can help you cope with the changes that come up as parents enter their later years.
Know how to support your parents
Practice healthy, open communication with your parents to have a clear picture of what support they need — and don’t need — as they get older. If communication with your parents has been difficult in the past — for example if you’ve been in the habit of avoiding difficult topics or having emotions run really high at the first sign of conflict — work together to learn more effective ways of dialogue.
Maintain a framework of interdependence as your parents age. Although getting older brings increasing physical and mental challenges, your parents aren’t children and shouldn’t be infantilized. Most parents will push back if you enter conversations with the attitude that you inherently know better than them, or that their priorities are less valid than your priorities - and rightfully so.
Don’t go around your parents’ back and “help” them in ways they don’t want or need. For example, setting up a housekeeping service to help your parents out with cooking and cleaning a few days a week might sound like a generous surprise gift — but unless your parents have expressed wanting that kind of support, they may interpret it as intruding on their space or belittling their abilities to care for themselves. This can hurt your relationship and make them less likely to reach out to you for help when they actually need it.
It’s important to accept that you and your parents may not always agree on what’s “best” for them. Fostering interdependence keeps your parents at the center of their own lives, maintaining and pursuing things they value most while getting help in areas that they identify as challenging.
Take care of yourself
Set boundaries with your parents that reflect how you want to be in relationship with them at this stage of life. This may mean having a conversation with them about how you can offer them some financial support but are not open to living together, or that you welcome their visits to your home but would prefer that time not be used to give unwanted career advice.
If you and your parents are in disagreement about some of their choices as they get older — for example their medical treatment or how they handle their financial affairs — be prudent about what areas are worth the fight and what topics you’re willing to just let go. Not only is turning every decision into a battle contrary to the philosophy of interdependence, it will also get you exhausted and burned out quickly.
Get support for the stress of this life transition — share your feelings with trusted friends, especially any who are going through similar changes or seek out a therapist who can help.
Acknowledge that life ends
It’s important to acknowledge that the aging process signals that the end of life is approaching. As impossible as it may seem to contemplate a world without your parents in it, the fact is that death is a natural and normal part of the life cycle. Trying to ignore this reality might seem like a good way to avoid pain in the short term, but in the long term, it frequently backfires and makes the feeling of loss more intense when it inevitably comes.
As your parents enter their final years, gently encourage them to have ongoing conversations with you about their desires and plans for the end of life. This can encompass lots of things, like understanding their wishes for medical interventions if they’re gravely ill, financial planning for what will happen to their money and assets after they’re gone, and knowing how they wanted to be remembered and celebrated through funerals, rituals, or other means.
The reality of death is a reminder that life is precious. Reflect on how you can value the remaining time with your parents and make it meaningful. Are there stories about their past you always wanted to hear? Is there a dream family vacation you often talked about but never actually planned? Consider if now is the time to finally take action.
Therapy can help
Sometimes venting to friends isn’t enough when you’re struggling with changes as your parents get older, especially when complicated family dynamics or other complexities are also in the mix. Therapy can help you get more grounded and sort through what’s going on. I invite you to set up a free phone consultation with me to learn more about how I can offer support. Click the button below and we can schedule a time to talk soon.