By Mollie Wilson
While it’s not something many people like to think or talk about, it’s also one of the sad facts of life-- as you age and begin to take on the exciting new adventures of life, your parents are aging as well. And while we all hope it will be later rather than sooner, eventually most children end up having to care for an aging parent.
Be it in their own home or in their parent's home, it’s one of the more stressful and trying times in a person’s life. The person you looked up to, who cared for you, who was your superman or superwoman, is struggling, in pain, or just generally needs help and support as they age, and that’s not easy to come to terms with. Couple that with the fact that many of the tasks an elder needs can be exhausting and constant, and any sane person, no matter how much they love their parent, would become stressed and over worked.
One of the most important factors to successfully caring for an elderly parent is also caring for yourself. This can sometimes be a difficult task for some people, as they feel selfish for thinking of themselves when their loved one is struggling and going through such a difficult time. However, the reality is that you’re going to be a better caregiver and a better child to your parent if you make sure to care of yourself and keep your own mental health in a positive and stress-free place.
If this is the point that your life is at right now, or you’re concerned it might be soon, be sure to follow these top tips for caring for yourself while also caring for your ‘experienced’ parent.
1. Prepare Yourself and Your Home.
While it’s not something many people want to have to think about, if you start to notice signs that your parent might be struggling on their own, it’s important not to ignore those signs. Instead pay close attention to your loved one and take some precautionary measures.
Ensuring your parent has emergency contact, security, and technological systems in place is a great place to start. In addition, start to prepare and plan for your new house guest. Decide if your parent will be taking over the guest room, or should your home have one or the space for one, prepare an in-law suite.
Also be sure to install proper equipment into the bathroom and other spaces as well, such as a hand rail in the bathroom and a stool or seat in the shower. This will save you time and stress for when your parent needs to move in. You won’t be rushing to figure out the details and in turn, since you won’t be stressed, your parent won’t feel like a burden. This is what we mean by saying taking care of yourself will make you a better caregiver.
2. Plan to take breaks and timeouts.
Whether this is a date night with your spouse or a day with your kids, plan to have time to yourself and to your family without having to worry about your elderly loved one. While this may seem unfair or not nice, it’s in the best interest of not only you, but of your family and of your elderly parent as well.
First, you establish this time apart from the beginning, this way it’s an expectation and the chance for hurt feelings is lessoned. Secondly, chances are if you have young kids, your parent isn’t going to be able to keep up with them as much as they’d like and are going to be exhausted if they try. Let them out of it without making them feel bad by planning this time away, and doing it from the start.
If you’re worried about your parent being lonely, help them find activities they enjoy or new friends for them to bond with.
3. Proactively De-stress.
This can mean a variety of things for a multitude of people. For some, it means exercising, for others it means making sure to have an hour to themselves, for themselves, every single day, some people might prefer to take CBD oil with a nice cup of tea, and some might prefer a glass of wine and a bath bomb at the end of a long day. Find out what works for you and what de-stresses you best and be sure to include it, if not in your daily routine, then at least in your weekly routine
4. Have a Backup Plan.
There are going to be times in your life, even while your elderly parent is living with you, that you are too busy, too stressed, or simply too tired to provide the level of care your parent requires. The important thing here is to first recognize when you are unable to provide such care, and secondly, to forgive yourself for it.
You caring for and doing your very best for your parent is enough, and we guarantee even when you feel as if it’s not enough, they’re incredibly grateful for all that you do for them and proud of the responsible and caring human you’ve become (and they raised you to be). Hiring an in home aide or nurse for emergencies or even on a regular, one day a week type of basis, can really relieve the stress you feel and make you a better caregiver for your parent.
In addition, if you’re struggling in any way to cope with your elderly parent, be sure to reach out for help for yourself as well. Talking to a therapist, or at the least a close friend or even your spouse can greatly lesson the stress you feel and improve your overall mental health.