Aging is yet another part of life and it will affect all of us. We might not even be emotionally ready to face these changes. That the same people we got used to counting on to take care of us now need us to take care of them. But this is reality. If your parents are still in good health and can live completely independently, it’s likely that you didn’t need to make that many adjustments, but it’s always better to be prepared.
As time passes there will inevitably be some deterioration in their health so we need to know what options we have and what steps to take in order to ensure their well-being. If their mobility becomes more limited they will need more help in managing everyday tasks as well as dealing with the emotional challenges of isolation and loneliness.
Some parents will get irritated with their children’s efforts to help them because they don’t want to feel like a burden, they want to preserve a sense of autonomy and maintain their relationships as they are, without any reversal of rols. This makes it all the more important to know how to approach the situation.
The most important thing you can do for them is maintain frequent contact. It’s true that this can be very difficult since modern lives are so busy and hectic, but try to call them at least once or twice a week and ask them how they are. Oftentimes, they’ll feel awkward calling you when they need something but it’s much easier if it comes up naturally in your phone conversations and you’re the one that offers. It changes the dynamic: their kids are doing things for them out of love and not to because they’re asked to.
They’ll also be looking forward to these conversations and you’ll have someone who will listen to you patiently and give you advice on sorting out family and job problems. No matter how grown up we are, it’s still nice to know we can count on our parents for wisdom and encouragement. For them as well, it’s very rewarding to still feel needed and to know that your adult children value your experience and look up to you.
This goes without saying but no amount of calls can replace visits. Even if you’re calling every day, your parents still want to see your face one in a while. This might be difficult if you live far away but, in that case, you can teach them how to use technology so you can talk though FaceTime or Skype. They don’t have to become experts but a basic understanding of how to use a computer, smartphone and the internet can make their lives a lot easier. They can order themselves food, hire cleaning services, look up special offers and events nearby and book holiday trips.
You can also stay in touch through social media. A lot of older parents enjoy using platforms such as Facebook because they get to see pictures of what’s going on in the lives of their kids and grandkids, they form groups with their friends and plan outings.
When you do manage to visit, take note of how their home looks to asses if they can still handle all of their household responsibilities by themselves. Is their home clean? Do they have enough groceries in the fridge? Are the bills paid on time? Ideally you should have the kind of trusting relationship where they feel completely comfortable admitting that they’re struggling and are open to asking for help but that is not always the case.
Consider Having Them Move in With You
Although we now consider it the norm, living only with your spouse and children was not always this common. Extended family living arrangements have been and still are the standard for many cultures in Latin America, Middle East, Southern and Eastern Europe and Asia. It was wide spread in Western Europe as well, with the exception of England where, starting from the 13th century young people would relocate with their nuclear family wherever they found the best employment opportunities and affordable property.
It may seem strange to us now, but there are many benefits to convincing your parents to move in with your family. If they’re still relatively healthy and independent, they don’t need to go to a nursing home but they can still get quite lonely and living close to their children and grandchildren is very rewarding and beneficial for their mental health.
If you don’t have enough space or you’re worried that you would need to make adjustments to your home in order to meet the needs of elderly persons, we recommend you build a granny annex in your garden. This way you can keep your parents nearby, take care of them and save on the costs involved in running two separate households and hiring someone to run errands for them.
There’s the additional advantage that they can have a closer relationship with your kids which, according to a study done by Boston College reduces the risk of developing depression for both grandparents and grandchildren. Another study done by the University of Oxford found that teenagers who spend more time with their grandparents have fewer behavioral problems and develop better relationships with their peers.
You’ll have someone that can help you communicate with your kids better since there’s a good chance that they see you as an authority figure and are more likely to be secretive with some aspects of their lives but they might be more open with your parents. It will also be easier for you since phone calls and video calls can only do so much and eventually your aging parents will need more hands-on assistance with their everyday lives and you won’t have to travel so far to make sure they get the medical care that they need.
Just remember that taking care of elderly parents can get a bit overwhelming for anyone, it’s not a sign of not being a good son or daughter and there’s no shame in getting assistance when it’s too much for you to handle.