Michele Armani and Sally Meisenheimer
Dear Style & Substance,
I find myself in a common situation. My parents are 88 and 89. They live on their own and are quite content; however, in the past six months I have noticed they are having difficulty with some day-to-day tasks. On top of that, my father’s memory is fading quickly and I realize they need some help before something happens that could lead to more difficulties. My question is how do my siblings and I offer help to them when they don’t believe they need any help?
You are correct in observing that you are not alone—many people find themselves actively raising children and caring for aging parents all while working full time. Two words to ultimately consider when approaching them are respect and pride. Assessing what your parents interpretation of their current status is can be done by simply talking about what other aging people or your friends parents may be facing, such as “Mrs. Smith is considering moving into the assisted living facility. How do you think she will like that?” or “Mr. Franklin just had a knee replacement and is having trouble navigating his stairs” This may generate some discussion that is not personal but actually reveals some personal feelings on these subjects.
Approach any discussions with your siblings with the knowledge and understanding that you all may have different feelings about what can be done to help and support your parents. It is a funny truth, but no matter how old we are we can easily revert to our 12-year-old selves when dealing with family issues, and stepping into the role of parenting a parent can be fraught with emotion. Recognize different coping styles but always pull the focus back to what is best for your parents.
Approach your parents with simple steps to which they are in agreement. If they are struggling with meals, set up a schedule whereby siblings, when possible, can prepare a meal for them. Ask them over for dinner as this is “normal” and it is additionally social and helpful. If siblings live out of the area they might contribute financially to have take-out brought to your parents once a week.
If they are struggling with housework and home maintenance, consider hiring a part-time housekeeper/assistant. This person can prepare meals, set the table, clean-up after dinner and perform basic cleaning and home maintenance on whatever scale is needed. Hiring a person outside of the family offers the opportunity for family members to contribute without bearing full responsibility for care.
Many families have been torn apart by the perception or truth that responsibility falls to one person and is not equally shared by all. Avoid this all-too-common sadness by openly and honestly communicating about what each child can realistically contribute given their current life situation, and then delegate the day-to-day support to a trusted outside person. This offers your parents the independence they value and some interesting conversation and stimulation.
Sometimes we make things more emotional than they need be. Be matter of fact and straight forward. If they want to live alone and you are a little worried, make contacting you or another person easy for them, set up a daily check-in that is simply that, and arrange a once-a-week transportation service by you, a sibling or a hired assistant.
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