Watching parents age is tough. Watching your divorced and still single parents age is heartbreaking. Not once did it ever cross my mind when I was a child what it would be like for Mom and Dad as they aged. Needing to think about it seemed such a long time away. I guess I never imagined them still being alone either when I became an adult. I feel for them and feel our relationship changing.
My parents are not well-off and have some health issues. Mom will turn 69 and Dad 80 this year. Both have had strokes, have heart conditions, Dad is now diabetic and both have faith in their doctor’s advice on taking several different kinds of medicines. For Mom, her medicines make her happier, giddy even. Mom is forgetful and Dad repeats his sentences in the same conversation.
I’m experiencing a myriad of emotions watching what age brings for them—sadness, fear, grief and anger. Even saying that out loud triggers guilt. I fear for how they will deteriorate and I well up with grief just thinking about it. I feel guilt that something can happen to them and nobody will be at their homes to help—even with small things like carrying a laundry basket or how to use the three different converters needed to switch the TV to play a DVD.
I catch myself being angry at them for not being invincible. And, as their needs increase, I don’t want to add resentment to the list. They now turn to me to help explain things they don’t understand and visits or outings are tailored to their digestive needs, sleep patterns and physical capabilities.
What I do want to remind myself of is that they too are seeing the relationship dynamic change. They feel it as well.
Rather than protecting myself from such emotions and risking my unconscious to love them differently, I’m choosing to be mindful of what’s happening, to create from it, freeing up more space in my heart.
Eight relationship transition tips—Easing into the evolution with less resistance
They are scared too – Of course they are. They see, feel, and are in tune with things in their day-to-day lives, and sense themselves transitioning into unknown territory. More than likely, they’re aware of a similar triggered list of emotions to mine. As their emotional intelligence evolves, so too will my need to be more kind to myself and with them.
They sense their independence slipping – Driving is probably one of the biggest expressions of independence for people. When that starts to get questioned, panic can surface. Reliance on another to drive them around for necessity excursions like groceries and doctors’ appointments, or even a simple pleasurable country drive can seem like the end of the world to an aging adult. While we may be concerned for their safety or for elements like defensive driving or reaction time, they see themselves becoming a burden AND fear their freedom being taken away.
They want to know they’re still needed – I’m turning 45 this year and my mother still feels the need to clean my house. It’s not because I’m messy or can’t do it, rather, I’ve come to realize that this is one way she feels she shows her love for us. By taking one thing off our plate, she believes she helps. So rather than contributing to her feelings of not being wanted, I’ll ask her to help with smaller things that we can do together.
My kids are their world – Yes they love me and my husband, but they love our boys more. They will do anything for us, even to the extent of, despite argumentative protests, giving us money every time they see us. Mom will call just to speak to the boys or hear their voices and the phone will never get passed to us.
Have the important conversations early – Talk about the inevitable early on. As much as they can think of, what do they want as part of their long-term care plan? What are some must haves versus nice to haves? What documents or other things need to be put in order? If they don’t care to discuss these with you, agree to find someone who can help with the conversation and planning.
Other people’s ignorance hurts – Not everyone applies patience, understanding and compassion when interacting with older adults. My mom was recently harassed by a store clerk when shopping for a holiday gift. She was slow to explain what she was looking for and was therefore treated with discrimination. I was shocked and frustrated with the clerk and I reacted towards her instead of supporting her. The clerks’ rudeness triggered my fear of what’s coming.
Logical step/thinking fades – Shorter sentences, fewer instructions, less detail—these are just three ways I’ve learned to best engage and communicate with older adults. It becomes more challenging for them to process complex dialogue the same way as they once could, so don’t expect them to.
You will always be their child – I catch my parents trying to parent me even now. I think there’s a part of them that feels young again through the memories of days gone by. It gives them pleasure and purpose to be part of something more than themselves, to see their contributions to the world in the legacy they will leave behind.
I don’t have the answers for what lies ahead, so I’m asking fewer questions. I’m choosing to stay focused on listening with my heart and soul, not just with the words shared. For they are on a journey… as am I.