Taking care of aging parents

It’s not just about their health and happiness. It’s about yours, too

Written by SMM Approval
June 29, 2017

Recently, I came across a website created by Joan Lunden, a former presenter of Good Morning America and distinguished television journalist whose career has been – in large part – dedicated to keeping her audience up to date on how to care for their homes, their families, and their health.

In partnership with Ken Druck, Ph.D., a family business consultant who has worked in the field of psychology and personal resilience for over 35 years, Ms. Lunden has come up with an unusually astute analysis of the difficulties and opportunities presented by the need to take care of aging parents. What follows is a summary of their joint insights:

Role reversal

The challenges of care taking or supporting an aging parent can be daunting. After years of literally cleaning up after us, putting up with the turbulent teens, supporting us as we launched our adult lives and countless other things since then, the support and care taking roles are beginning to be reversed.

What exactly does it mean to take care of or ‘raise’ an aging parent? Just how responsible are we for their financial, mental and physical health, wellbeing, lifestyle and security? Coming up with the right formula for how to raise your aging parent may be one of the most difficult things you’ve ever been asked to do.

Like raising a child, the challenges of parenting, care taking or supporting an aging parent can be exceptionally tricky. If you’re lucky, your parent will be cooperative, accommodating, rational, reasonable and accepting of change. If you’re not, they may go kicking and screaming. Here are eight things to consider when dealing with your aging parent(s):

1. Act from love, not guilt or resentment

Check your motives, intentions and reason for taking care of your aging parent. Behaviour that is inspired by love, caring, empathy, affection, selfless giving and a compelling sense of moral or ethical responsibility gets significantly better results that that which is driven by obligatory guilt, shame, blame, self-loathing, fear and/or resentment.

2. Live and give within your limits

Some of us are better prepared to help an aging parent than others. Our personal wealth, resources, time, health and family situation and ability to set and maintain healthy boundaries are all factors. The key is to live and give within your limits. Financially, mentally, emotionally or physically over-extending ourselves while taking care of an aging parent can result in burnout, depletion and abuse (of self and them) when we eventually get pushed too far. Watch out.

3. Beware of the Never Enough syndrome

Sadly, some of us get caught up in guilt traps and guilt trips. We try to control the other person by inducing guilt in them. This dishonest and destructive habit of selfishly getting an aging parent or adult child to do what you want destroys intimacy and trust and breeds resentment. If you’re becoming aware that you do this, an apology is a good way to repair your relationship(s). Saying sorry helps.

4. Make a list of what’s available and what’s not

Break it down. By itemizing what you’re willing to do, give and be in concrete terms, and listing what’s not on the table, you are setting the rules for success with your parent. How? First, by being clear at the front end of any relationship, you’re defining the scope of what’s going to happen and hopefully coming to an agreement. This reduces or even eliminates the possibility for misunderstandings, hurt or angry feelings, stress and disconnection.

5. Empathize, show compassion but set healthy boundaries

Those who learn to give from genuine empathy and compassion are better able to set reasonable limits and healthy boundaries. Some of us are better at saying ‘no’ or resisting the seduction of a demanding, narcissistic parent (or adult child), when they ask for ‘more.’ It takes great courage, strength and self-respect to enforce your limits, especially when the co-dependent child in you is (irrationally) convinced that their life and happiness are your responsibility.

6. Rest and replenish: practice good self-care

Care taking someone you love who is struggling with the ills of getting older is a physically, emotionally and spiritually demanding activity. Like anything we aspire to be good at, we need to get in game shape, balance energy expenditure with rest and replenishment and delegate some of the care taking to others even more capable than us.

7. Successful relationships are a two-way street

The best insurance for successful relationships at any age of any kind is clear, honest communication, good listening, respect and compassion. Communicate how you feel and what you need in a tone that makes the other person want to listen and learn. There’s no such thing as a perfect parent, child or relationship.

8. Set a gentle but firm tone for the transfer of power

At some point, you may find yourself gradually or abruptly taking over some responsibilities from them.

I have consulted and coached families through estate planning and the transfer of generational wealth myself.

As a wealth advisor I know from experience that a son or daughter taking the lead on putting a family’s legal, fiscal affairs in order can evoke fear, distrust, jealousy and greed.

Long-held sibling rivalries can resurface and destabilize even the most technically astute estate plans. A capable wealth advisor can act as an invaluable intermediary in this kind of situation.

Geoff Funke, Senior Wealth Advisor, Scotia Wealth Management, 604.535.4721.