Do you recall as a child being taken care of by your parents? This poignant video is sure to bring back memories. And if it doesn’t bring a tear, please check your pulse.
Hardly a day will pass when I don’t think of my late mother and father. I remember in great detail how meticulously my parents cared for me. They nurtured me with unconditional love. Wherever I was, whatever challenges I faced, my parents were always there for me. My mom and dad were my rock. I could not imagine life any other way.
Yet over time loved ones grow old and relationships in the family inevitably change. Anyone who’s been there knows just how difficult it is to watch loved ones age. It is a turbulent jolt to the senses that you would rather deny. But the day will come when you must face the truth. You parents are growing old and life is very different.
Today, baby boomers face our own startling reality. As the pendulum swings we will soon be on the other side. It’s just a matter of time. The need to offer elder care to millions of people on the cusp of aging presents a daunting global challenge. Perhaps it is time to take a fresh look at the concept of caregiving and our evolving family structures. Who will be there to care for you when you grow old?
The role of caregiving for a family member is traditionally viewed as dreadful, stressful and downright overwhelming. It is true that caring for an aging parent surely has its share of challenges, frustrations and aggravations. On the other side, however, caregiving can provide a positive and deeply rewarding experience.
By finding meaning and rewards in the caregiving experience, caregivers and recipients alike can partner to proactively plan ways that may better balance the needs of both parties in the relationship. A research study published in the February 2015 journal Gerontologist entitled, “Informal Caregiving and Its Impact on Health: A Reappraisal From Population-Based Studies, cites five studies that linked caregiving to greater longevity.
Caregiving relationships particularly within one’s own family can offer fulfilling and meaningful rewards to the caregiver ranging from emotional, social and psychological to physical. Caregivers are often motivated by a purposefulness that comes from nurturing another human being which in turn may lead to more positive attitudes about oneself and one’s life.
Several of the studies found that over 90% of caregivers attributed a greater appreciation for life because of their caregiving experience. These caregivers said they felt needed, appreciated and important. They also reported that caregiving had helped them strengthen relationships with others, develop a more positive attitude towards life and learn a new skill.
Truth be told, caregiving is a stressful and demanding role even under the best of circumstances. In the 2003 study entitled “Is Caregiving Hazardous to One’s Physical Health: A Meta-Analysis”, researchers concluded that distress experienced by the caretaker is proportionate to the psychological and social resources available to them. This finding suggests the need for innovation in designing future support systems available to caregivers that may help ease onerous burdens.
Psychological resources are defined as any internal resource that an individual relies upon in stressful situations, such as problem-solving skills, spirituality, and ability to see positive outcomes. Social resources include support from family and friends, caregiver support groups and community support groups.
Considering our own humbling experiences in caring for our aging parents, along with our basic understanding of what lies ahead, now is the time for baby boomers to take thoughtful and decisive steps to plan for growing old. Following are five ideas to begin family discussions about the inevitable life transitions ahead:
1. Carve out time for quiet and private family discussions anticipating the future. Find ways to begin meaningful dialogue with your children on the subject. For example:
- “I was thinking about how life changed when your grandfather could no longer get around on his own. Should I ever reach a similar time in my life, here is what I hope for …”
- “Your dad and I are planning to downsize and shift gears. Here’s what we see for ourselves in the coming years…”
- “You are designated as the executor of our estate. Here’s what we would like for you to know… (i.e. about our living situation, legal matters, finances, end-of-life care, etc.)”
2. Broach the subject of changing roles between you and your child in a sensitive and caring way that will encourage open two-way dialogue, avoid expressions of judgment and mitigate their anticipated discomfort. For example:
- “Even though I’m growing older, I will always be your mom and you will always be my child. It is my wish that no matter what lies ahead, we will always love each other deeply and have mutual respect. How do you feel?
- How do you think aging might impact our relationship in the future? What things can we do now to help make it a mutually positive experience?”
- “As your dad and I age, we don’t ever want you to burden you. Ideally, here’s how we see our future unfolding. How does this sound to you?” How does it make you feel?
- “I used to feel terribly awkward when my dad spoke to me about his anticipation of growing old and planning for his death. How do you feel when your dad and I want to discuss these matters with you?”
3. Be aware of how old baggage and unresolved conflict can negatively impact parent and child dynamics in your discussions about growing old. It is critical to avoid incendiary or authoritative comments that may shut constructive dialogue and flame hard feelings, such as:
- “After all that we’ve done for you…”
- “Don’t patronize me just because I’m getting old…”
- “That is just none of your business…”
- “Well I’ll be damned if…”
4. Engage your family in planning discussions about your aging experience and your plans to transition life over time. Encourage your children’s advice and ideas while you seek to understand their feelings:
- We’re thinking about relocating and moving into a smaller place, what are your thoughts?
- What are your biggest worries about having a very old mom and dad?
- How can we help one another in the years ahead as your dad and I grow old?
- How are some of your friends coping with their aging parents? What are some of their experiences? What’s working for them? What’s not?
5. Establish “rules of engagement” for future discussions between you and your child about sensitive topics related to getting old, the aging process, death and dying:
- “I was always so uneasy when grandpa would tell me about his wishes for handling end-of-life affairs. How do you feel when I want to discuss these things with you?”
- “Listen, this growing old stuff is just a natural part of living. How can we look past the doom and gloom when we’re talking about it?”
- “Here’s what I would like to cover with our discussions on growing old transitions in life…What would you find helpful to talk about?”
- “How would you feel about having periodic discussions moving forward to share thoughts with each other about our future? How often does it make sense to revisit these matters?
Truth is, if we live long enough certain realities are inevitable. We will age. Our family relationships will change. The pendulum will swing. Soon we’ll be the other side. Get over your denial. Plan on growing old!
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