Aging and decline in the lives of our parents has a way of testing family member’s strength and commitment to each other. Until our parents need us to turn the tables and help them, siblings and only children generally go about their lives giving little thought to what lies ahead for the ones who raised them. When one spouse can take care of another, it’s easier on their children for a while at least. Once parents start needing help the complications begin. Who’s going to be the decision maker, who will take them to doctor appointments, where will the parents live? Did the parents have all their directives in place or will the children be needing to make decisions with or for them? The many “Extended” families may have different dynamics, but I think the commonality is in the desired result. Harmony, would be the ideal.
I’ve observed that the care of parents falls often on the son/daughter who lives closest to them, which seems logical. But, the one who lives closest may not be the best to have primary responsibility. Maybe they have a full time job and can do only certain things that fit their schedule or skills. If another family member, who lives further away, is good at organizing and has a better head for paperwork and working with insurance companies, etc., those things can be done from a distance. Having too many heads involved creates chaos. Some family members need to have little involvement and sometimes that’s best. Each family is unique. Harmony occurs on it’s own, when families truly want to do what’s best for each other, when they are thoughtful of the others involved, especially the parents.
Asking how the parents are doing and giving opinions and advice without offering honest help is not contributing. It can create resentment and disharmony. Contribution is following through on what the main Caregiver tells you they really need. It’s finding a way to distribute the responsibilities so everyone has a nice life. The only child has an advantage in a way, there’s no one to second guess them. And that’s a huge problem in many families. Of course, there’s no help either, which I have a feeling they would say is more important. There are so many ways to get help and, if harmony is the ideal, there’s no reason everything should be done by one person. If there’s only one person to help with parents, resources are the key to making everyone’s life easier. Make planning and reaching out to others a part of your strategy. I was amazed at how many people in my neighborhood volunteered to sit with my husband for an hour or so, so I could go to my own doctor appointments, etc. There are people today in most cities who will run errands, grocery shop, clean house, do laundry or pick up prescriptions, etc., for a nominal fee. Places of worship have volunteers who are waiting to find a way to help others. They often offer their services at assisted living facilities, you may find contact information there or online, of course. Senior centers have this kind of information, also.
Relieving the chores and allowing the main Caregiver to oversee the personal things that would make their parents lives more pleasurable would make everyones lives better. That’s a much bigger job than most would know and requires a lot of patience and time. Especially, if dementia is in the picture. They could focus on enjoying their parents with visits or taking them out for lunch and keeping their lives full for as long as they can. Now that would be harmony.
Recently, an older couple told me they were planning to sit down with their four children and discuss what might be coming, while they are still in good health. How wonderful, I’m always amazed and impressed when people have raised their families in such a way that this kind of dialog is possible. For most families I’ve observed, including my own, such dialog never occurs, we just had to “wing-it.” Another family, who were not first marriages for either parent, took it upon themselves to figure out how they would like things to be for themselves ideally and took that information to each of the children. At least, if there is a desired plan in place, there is a guideline and possibility for harmony. I stress harmony because a peaceful existence for all would make life so much easier for the parents in their last years of life and for those on whom the “burden falls.” Yes, I said “burden.” Let’s face it. It’s hard enough to take care of our own lives, add a few children, grandchildren and now our parents. It can be a loving burden, but we must call it what it is. The person the responsibility falls on needs to be recognized and helped as much as possible. Not with tons of recommendations and, least of all criticism. I mean real help.
Opening our minds and our hearts, setting aside our ego’s, goes a long way toward finding harmony. It’s tough to humble ourselves and just give without judgement. But, I’ve seen it done, by loving, thoughtful, caring families. If you want to help the designated Caregiver, find out what they need. Ask what they’re doing on a daily basis for the parent. You’re going to find that it’s a huge project and takes hours out of each day of their lives. Be sincere and ask, “Would it help if I did this, or that?” “Can I pay for someone to come in and do this or that?” The Caregiver may not talk about it easily. They might feel guilty for not wanting to do all they are doing. You need to offer what you think might be of help and is in your power.
One last thing. If you are the main Caregiver, you need to help yourself. Accept what others might offer, don’t be too proud. It only hurts you. If others want to help and you aren’t letting them, it’s a little selfish. It’s as important to receive as to give. Harmony means that everyone is giving and receiving.
Until soon, I wish you Love and Harmony.
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Thank you, Patricia