Aging Parents

Episode 46

Hello friends and welcome to The Midlife. Today I wanted to talk to you about your aging parents. If you’re not dealing with these issues yet, don’t tune out. It is inevitable that you too will face these challenges.

It seems that just as we get our own rugrats out the door and on some stable footing, the responsibilities of aging parents sneak in the back window.

Assuming you married and/or had kids, as we approach midlife, we have already spent more than half our lives caring for the wellbeing of other humans. And we are exhausted.

I wonder what the hourly commitment actually adds up to of time spent in the service of others over our lifetimes so far. How many meals shopped for, prepped, cleaned up? How many loads of laundry. How many hours chauffeuring and game cheering. What about volunteer hours and night’s sleep interrupted for illness or bad dreams. This doesn’t even consider mommies that have children with more complicated needs or god forbid illness or even mommies that ended up doing it alone. How about that our natural nurturing instincts carry over to our co-workers, bosses and clients.

No wonder we start to turn inward in Midlife, searching to reconnect with our true selves. But we also have a sense of obligation. And when our parents start facing the challenges of getting older, we rise to the occasion. But in what form will that assistance take place, what are the financial concerns and how will your life be impacted?

 A lot of the information out there right now may be geared to our age group but it’s as if your mother is whispering in the ear of the author. All the advice seemingly geared to you is really in the interest of your parents. So instead, I thought I’d take a fresh, and honest, and yeah maybe even selfish look at the stresses caring for aging parents places on us in Midlife. Don’t send a link of this episode to your mother.

Our parents will age through 5 stages.

The first is self sufficiency. Do you have a parent telling you they’re fine but you still insist on doing things for them? Do yourself a favor and listen to them. I can’t help but wonder if there are some of you out there that think the best way to replace caring for children leaving the nest is to substitute doing things for your parents instead. This would require a tremendous amount of self awareness so let me just point out if you are a little offended by my first comment, this in fact is probably you. I know, you’re being nice and dutiful and but also you’re being overbearing and assumptive and I would argue you’re hiding from addressing the issues that are affecting you personally by making sure you don’t have any spare time to spend on yourself.

There’s a difference between nurturing and being a nuisance. Get a puppy instead. Scratch that, learn to spend time by yourself, for yourself.

The second stage parents age through is interdependence. It may become obvious that help is needed or your parent may directly start asking for assistance. Maybe with the house chores or running errands or accompanying them to the doctor. We all like to be needed and being available to assist an aging parent can be rewarding. Maybe you feel like it’s a little payback for the things they did for you. That’s lovely. Any time you get to spend with your parent is a gift as they age. But being accountable to yet another human can start to feel burdensome.

The way to stop that from feeling like an onerous “have-to” is to set clear boundaries. I am adamant that you are focused on enjoying your life and evolving in this time. Just because your parent needs something from you does not mean, in most cases, that you have to drop what you are doing or change plans you’ve made to accommodate them. If it’s a question of setting doctor appointments, train your parents to check your schedule first. Give them several dates and time windows where you can be available. If your parent is needing help with chores or errands, set a specific day and time that you can block off to help. Let them know that Tuesday afternoons are all theirs and that providing something isn’t an emergency, they can save up all their honey-do’s for you on the appointed day. 

If you have siblings, consider being the clearing house for the requests and doling out tasks so that you’re not the only one sacrificing time. Explain to them that their boundaries are also important and ask for those finite times that they can be available. With clear ground rules, you’ll alleviate conflict.

At some point, your elderly parents will go from interdependence – where they maintain some degree of independence – to complete dependence on you.

They may need you to drive them around, take care of shopping, or help them with cooking, dressing, bathing, or even eating. You are now in possession of a toddler that used to ground you. This can be sad and draining. Make sure you have adequate emotional support from your spouse, siblings or friends. I know you may feel guilty that you want to complain. Don’t. It’s totally understandable because this sucks. If you need a place to dump these feelings, please feel free to pop into the private facebook group Muddling Through The Midlife. You will find sympathetic ears and maybe even a new buddy facing the same challenges.

I can’t help but think that the modern conveniences of technology can be a huge help in caring for aging parents. Don’t hesitate to place a deliverable grocery order for them weekly or arrange for Uber to take them to and from appointments. Your love and devotion shouldn’t be measured by whether or not you’re the one having to roll up your sleeves. Parents have a tendency to manipulate by guilt. Don’t fall for it. And please break that cycle. Don’t use it on your own kids. 

This stage of the game usually brings a whole host of living situation decisions to address. Can you get help in the house for your parents? Does your parent need to be moved to assisted living? Will you have your parent move in with you? Is the choice that’s right for one parent in the best interest of the other? Can they be separated? 

On top of the living arrangements, finances play a huge role in these decisions. Do your parents have the resources for the level of care they want and need? Do you have to share in the financial burden? How does this impact your retirement goals? Not to mention you may still be helping out with college tuition and living expenses for your children. 

Clusterfuck, right? I am going to say something that some of you may find pretty cold. You have to think about what’s right for you FIRST. Hear me out. Your parents had a lifetime to plan for this. Did they? Did they discuss those plans with you? If you’re facing financial responsibility for your parents I want you to consider if you wish to pose a similar burden to your children. If you are in a position where contributing to your parents’ needs doesn’t impact you. Wonderful. I’m happy for your success and by all means. But please don’t sacrifice your future and kick that can down the road for your own kids.

The next two phases are consequences of our extended lives. Inevitably there will be a crisis; a sudden illness or injury. If you live away, make arrangements with boots on the ground to manage the situation until you can get there. But also, be sure that you have the proper legal authorities to step in for medical and financial decisions should your parent be incapacitated. It’s not a pleasant conversation to have, but now may be the time to involve an attorney to walk you through the protections you should put in place.

And what about if your parent is in mental decline? This is terribly painful to witness. Again, make sure you have adequate support.

It seems like no one dies in their sleep anymore and yet death of our elders seems to take us by surprise. It may limit some of the grief if you have the difficult talk ahead of time about what your parent wants and do a little pre planning.

Good times. 

And let’s talk about some complicating factors like having siblings who aren’t pitching in, whether with effort or money if it’s needed. Families are destroyed over not being on the same page. Now would be a good time for me to reiterate that you have no control over how other people behave. It may be infuriating, but I think you have to assume that they don’t have the coping skills to contribute like you do. And if they are just truly an asshole, we then, they will have to reconcile their own conscience with their actions. I’m sorry to tell you that’s really your only remedy. Super unsatisfying.

As you are being the dutiful daughter, I do want you to strongly consider the people under your roof first when making any decisions. The time you choose to dedicate to your aging parents, while valiant, may be compromising your primary and most important relationships. First and foremost, you have to protect your marriage. For many of us in this stage, we are just starting to renew a sense of appreciation for our spouses. At least I hope that’s happening for you. If it’s not, go back and listen to my marriage episodes. It’s not unusual for the demands of jobs and raising children to have reduced you to ships passing in the night.

Midlife gives you the opportunity to reconnect. An aging and ailing parent, or 4 of them for that matter, can reintroduce a lot of stress to your relationship. Don’t let it. I promise you it is possible to responsibly and humanely care for your parents but while still prioritizing your partner.

As for your children, consider that they are watching and learning how you want to be treated when you arrive at this stage of life. That doesn’t mean I want you to cater to your parents every whim in the hopes that your children will wait on you hand and foot. In fact, I want you to deliberately consider how it feels to be the child in this situation and how you can alleviate some of the stresses you may be feeling for your own children. Make sure you are planning and deciding what you want and how it’s going to be paid for so that you don’t torment your own children. Have the difficult conversations with them early and often so that caring for you isn’t a surprise or burden.

On the subject of your children, let’s take a moment to acknowledge that you may be part of the Sandwich Generation, stuck with both the challenges of caring for aging parents and still raising children at home. The stresses of wearing so many hats cannot be overlooked. It is so important that you take the time to have a clear vision of what you want your day to day to look like so that you are not just constantly putting out fires reacting to the needs of others. You have to compartmentalize what you’re doing, who you’re doing it for and when you’re willing to do it so that you have enough time and energy to pursue the things important to you, whether career, hobby or social time. 

Many of you have told me how sad and terrifying it is to watch your parents get sick.  Seeing someone once vibrant decline is gut wrenching. I think one thing we don’t talk about is the nagging thought in the back of your head wondering how much of what your parent is facing is genetic and if you are simply watching your own future unfold. 

This all affords lots of learning opportunities, Should you be investing more aggressively in your health? And I’m not talking money. I’m talking time and effort. How many times does the phone need to ring before you answer that wake up call. So much disease can be prevented and even reversed with changes to diet. If this is news to you, please start reading up. 

Now what if your parents suck? What is your obligation here? Sorry, but I don’t know that it changes. Be decent. Set your boundaries. And if you need a motivation, remember your children are watching and learning.

The biggest message I want you to hear from me today, we’ll really in every episode, is that Midlife is the time for you to be putting yourself first. I am on a mission to support you in finding your happiness and creating a life that is sustainably fun and purposeful. Of course there will be challenges, and caring for aging parents is a doozy, but i want you to always be able to come back to the plan. Your plan. And I want to impress upon you that despite what you have been programmed to believe for your entire life, you can put yourself first and still be the most awesome mom, wife, friend and even daughter. 

Thanks for stopping by today. And I mean it. If you want to share a little about your challenges with aging parents, the private facebook group Muddling Through The Midlife is a safe place to do it.

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