Role Reversal: How to Navigate Becoming a Family Caregiver for an Aging Parent

The Arbors Blog
Posted by The Arbors on Apr 20, 2018 5:00:00 PM

Caregiver with aging senior parent navigating becoming a family caregiverWhen a parent becomes dependent on you to assist them with everyday tasks such as bathing, dressing, meal preparation, or running errands — life can change drastically for both you and your parent.

After a lifetime of your parent being the caregiver, this role-reversal can create tension in your relationship.

Setting aside dementia caregiving, which brings its own challenges, research on the definition of a healthy relationship between a parent and a caregiving child is based on two things:

  • Preserving the intergenerational relationship. This means that your parent should still function as the parent.
  • Embracing the caregiving role of the adult child. Your parent should be able to receive care from you without resentment, and you should be able to step into the caregiving role without feeling forced.

The key to managing this transition successfully is to know what part of your parent-child relationship has changed and to embrace it. And, to know which part of the relationship hasn’t changed and to protect it.

Here are some common challenges family caregivers face when making the transition, and how to make the transition easier.

The Stubborn Parent

One challenge family caregivers often face is handling a stubborn parent. In fact, it’s so common that stubbornness is a self-reported problem in 90 percent of families with aging parents.

It’s not uncommon for parents to respond negatively to an adult child who offers advice or assistance. You might see mom or dad insist on doing things “their way”. They might resist trying things a new way.

Researchers say open communication (and agreement) about needs, desires and goals are crucial in moving past stubbornness and into collaboration.

The Defensive Parent

When a parent turns over the responsibility of everyday activities like paying bills, helping them with a shower, or managing medications, it can really put a parent on the defensive. Your parent might struggle with feeling like they’ve lost control, or even purpose in their life.

Be sure to talk to them, not about them, when attending doctor’s appointments, or managing other relationships such as a financial planner or bank. Be sure there is a clear understanding of what your parent does want help with, and what they would prefer to continue to manage on their own.   

Use baby steps to make the transition. For example, when setting up mom’s medications, have her check that they look correct. Keeping a parent involved can help stifle feelings of losing control.

The Withdrawn Parent

A parent who appears to be indifferent may actually be withdrawing in their relationship with you.  This can happen for a few reasons.  Your parent may feel like you don’t value their opinion.  They might also feel unsure because of the changes they’ve experienced physically and emotionally.

Rather than making all decisions for your parent, use options as much as possible and let your parent choose.  For example, offering to help your mom shower in the morning or evening, whichever they’d prefer is a great way to allow them some autonomy as you step into a more hands-on role. Even though you may be responsible for writing the checks out, your parent may still want to review and “approve” paying the bills.  Find a middle-ground that allows you to accomplish your caregiving responsibilities, but doesn’t leave your parent feeling useless.

And finally, don’t forget that your parent is still and will always be your “mom” or “dad.” Ask them for advice on something you’re dealing with in your life. A lifetime of accumulated wisdom stays fresh and useful long after joints and muscles give out.

Find more tips about navigating family caregiving in our guide Becoming a Family Caregiver.

Topics: Caregiving, Future Planning

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