When your parent suddenly needs your help with everyday tasks that they've always handled by themselves in the past, it can be incredibly difficult to adjust to your new role. You know your parent needs you, but you aren't sure how to fulfill your new role. Parenting your parent doesn't come naturally, nor does it happen overnight. You can, however, adapt to your new role with a minimum of trauma.
Be Patient with Yourself
You're going to make mistakes. Things are going to get overwhelming. There may even be times when you just want to get in your car and drive as far away as possible. It's all right to be patient with yourself. Let things that don't matter slide. You'll never get these last weeks, months, and years with your parent back, and it's worth cherishing them.
Care for Yourself, Too
You can't be an effective caregiver for anyone if you don't take care of yourself. Whether you have children at home who still need your care, your own house to keep up with, or a job to juggle, there's a lot on your plate! Make sure that you take time out of your other responsibilities to practice self care. Prepare healthy meals, get regular exercise, and do something that's just for you on a regular basis.
Look for the Joy
Caring for your parent can be hard. It doesn't take long to get bogged down in the difficulty—both the physical weight of the tasks at hand and the emotional turmoil associated with the changes in your life. Instead of focusing on the negative, however, look for opportunities to focus on the positive. Listen to your parent tell stories that would be forgotten without them, and record them to share with the rest of the family later. Enjoy moments that you're able to spend together. Find joy in both the small and big moments, and you'll be able to watch your attitude improve and your perspective brighten.
Remember Who You Are Dealing With
This may sound like a no-brainer, but it is easy to forget in the thick of things that the person dependent on you now is still your parent. While the dynamics of your relationship may change, the fact is that your parent deserves the same respect and dignity which he or she has always expected from you. Mom or Dad may need more help now, but they are still Mom or Dad.
Listen More Than Talk
When inevitable uncomfortable conversations must take place, as a general rule it is better to do less talking and more listening. No one appreciates being lectured, and your parents are no exception to this rule.
Encourage your loved one to talk freely about problems and concerns by asking questions designed to draw out his or her true feelings. Avoid the temptation to interrupt when he or she is speaking.
Carve out time to spend in pleasant conversation, so that when difficult conversations must take place, there will be a firm foundation of mutual respect upon which you can rely.
Ease into Your New Role
While being thrust into the position as primary caregiver might put your emotions in overdrive, it is wise to ease into your new role, if possible. This can be done by making incremental changes that will not disrupt your parent's routines dramatically.
Rather than issuing orders, make suggestions where possible. Allow yourself and your parent time to acclimate to the new dynamic before making drastic changes in the way things are handled in your family.
Remember the Golden Rule
In all your interactions with your loved one, express your love in word and deed. Treat him or her as you would like to be treated if you were in a similar situation. Kindness, empathy, and compassion can smooth your transition from cared-for child to responsible caregiver.
Involve Other Family Members
Don't feel like you have to care for your parent on your own. Reach out to your siblings, aunts, uncles, and other family members to get help. Often, they will be willing to help in any way they can—moral support, financial assistance, vacation coverage, etc.
As you are learning to deal with the transition of being a caregiver, refer to our Caregiver Toolkit.