When your aging mother loses independence to the point that she needs assistance, it can be very frustrating for her. Many elderly care experts refer to this time as the beginnings of a role reversal between a parent and child.
But perhaps that’s putting it too simply. Maybe even suggesting the idea that “reversing roles” is ever wanted–or even possible–is a little short-sighted.
In an article for Forbes, Howard Gleckman explains how this idea of role reversal is more complicated than most experts claim.
“Put yourself in the position of an aging parent. As you become physically frail and cognitively limited, you lose control of your life. All those day-to-day decisions that healthy people take for granted when to go to the movies, when to eat, when to walk across the room and even when to go to the bathroom–are increasingly shared with others,” Gleckman writes. “It can be embarrassing and demeaning.”
Here are a few other good points from Gleckman’s article:
- Long-distance family caregivers have a tendency to “parachute into town” for a couple of days, where they barrage their parents with demands to go to the doctor, stop driving, etc. This often leads the aging parent to feel resentful, embarrassed, and even angry–not the best environment to make life-changing decisions.
- As an adult child, never flat-out tell your parent what you think they should do. Instead, start off a conversation by saying something like, “Mom, what do you think we should do…” From here, your parent doesn’t feel attacked. This will allow the two of you to work together.
- You might have to step in if your aging loved one is emotionally or cognitively incapable of making decisions. Gleckman notes, however, that this scenario occurs much less often than you think.
When an aging loved one starts succumbing to the frailties of old age, it brings about a complex, painful change in the relationship between a parent and child. But no family caregiver should be expected to start acting as his or her parent’s new parent.
Rather, the actual role reversal should involve trying to see things from the perspective of your aging parent while caregiving. By relating to your loved one as you know best–and asking how you can both go about making the best decisions for their care–you can both move forward as a team. In the end, that’s what family is all about.
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