We all know that as we age there will be physical changes—our eyesight strains, our memory slips, our hearing dims, we lose strength. But we fail to plan for the psychological changes—and challenges—that follow. As our parents and loved ones’ age, they begin to lose the ability to perform certain functions. Accordingly, their caretaker, most often the adult children, must assume a new role—one of the parent. This is popularly called “role reversal.”
For an individual who has always taken a great deal of pride in their own self-sufficiency, it can be difficult to be told that you now have to rely on the help of others. It can be especially difficult when those “others” are the very children you raised. For our parents, this can be a confusing and difficult time. Relinquishing responsibility to those you have traditionally been responsible for can be an emotionally demanding process.
Ideally, by the time we are faced with this challenge we should have a healthy peer-level relationship with our elders. One where no one feels obligated to fulfill basic obligations for the other out of anything but love. One of the surest ways we can safeguard this relationship is to preserve a high level of dignity toward each other. Our parents will always be our parents, regardless of their physical or mental state. During this demanding transition, we can’t give into the pressure to treat them otherwise, they have earned the right to be treated with respect and honor.
As a caregiver, our role is not to “parent” our parents (or other loved ones). Rather, our role should be that of a trusted advisor with the goal of helping them through a very difficult process. We should seek honest, transparent communication with a considerate tone. Strive to meet one other's needs and protect priorities. Avoid critical or patronizing comments/behaviors and acting with the wrong motivation (such as guilt or obligation). It often helps to put ourselves in their shoes and imagine what we might expect under similar circumstances. It may also be helpful to have a candid conversation about those expectations and decide which we are able to handle and which might require outside assistance.
In other words, as caregivers “role-reversal” is a term we should reconsider as it is far too simplistic in its definition. Perhaps “role-reinforcement” would a better description of this complicated and trying time of transition. Regardless of what we call it, this period can feel overwhelming at times, remember not to shoulder the burden alone. Look to family and friends for support. Likewise, home health-care agencies, like Home by Choice, can be a wonderful resource and help share some of the responsibility.
*Home by Choice is an award winning in-home health-care agency in Gainesville, FL. Contact us today for a free consultation.