How to Empower Your Aging Parents

No matter what the situation a member of the sandwich generation may face, be it the realization that your aging parent is no longer fit to drive a car or needs help remembering when to take his or her medications, or that one or both of your parents needs to be moved to an age-appropriate living facility, it is never easy to broach that discussion with your folks.

Most often, this adult child will be met with both hurt and resistance from Mom and Dad, not to mention the pain felt in facing the fact that time seems to be speeding up in your parents’ aging process. Feelings on both sides may be heated, as no one relishes loosing control over life-long activities and/or one’s cherished living situation.

When I counsel these families in crisis, my goal is always to help them reach a peaceful resolution for everyone, by way of empathy. Each person needs to truly understand the other’s feelings.

And while in many cases, especially those in which the adult child is at wit’s end from dealing with his or her own family, working full time, financial constraints and helping care for Mom or Dad (any one of which would equate to a full time job in its own right), I offer this one reminder to every over-burdened adult child out there: These elderly people, who sometimes sadly bear little resemblance to who they were years ago, are still your parents.

Stop and think about that. I take issue with aging specialists and others out there who allow such adult children to say that they’ve come to a point in life where they now are “parenting their own parents.” While the level of care required by an elderly parent may have become more than you feel you can give, your parents are now and will remain until their last days, your parents.

Empower them. Empower your parents and you will find less resistance, less hurt, and a lot more appreciation for your real desire to offer them the safest and most appropriate level of care possible.

Here are some ideas:

  • Take it slow – work out a plan for change in gradual increments. Is Mom insistent that she still do all the housekeeping on her own and yet all you see is accumulating dust and clutter? Approach her with a gradual plan, not an all-at-once “you need to downsize” solution. Perhaps having a cleaning service just once a month will free up Mom to expend her energies on other tasks. If this does not provide enough help for her, agree on a next-stage plan of action, such as the addition of weekly sessions with an organizer.
  • Offer options – whenever possible, think of some options to offer your mom or dad. Are some simple aging in place solutions in order, or does Dad’s house need major remodeling to keep him safe? If the latter, where will Dad be most comfortable staying in the meantime? A phone call to an aging-in- place specialist may be what’s needed—not a nurse.
  • Empathize – Growing old isn’t easy.
  • Show respect – Now more than ever, your parents should be afforded the level of respect they deserve as your elders. The fact that they may need your assistance does not negate the fact that these are your parents.

Of course, conversation between parent and child, even a “child” who is an adult, may have its hurdles even later in life. I am here, as always, to help any such family dialogue their way to a workable solution.

All the best,
Rabbi Scott Saulson, Ph.D.

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