Switching roles with your parents is one of the hardest things about the aging process. You watch your parents start to get forgetful or even rebellious and suddenly you realize you’re the responsible adult who needs to make decisions and set limits. It’s not a job you want and your parents certainly don’t want to relinquish control, and yet, it’s the only way to keep them safe.
How do you cope with this new reality?
Step one: Accept it.
Unfortunately, your parents’ memories and behaviors aren’t going to get better, they’re only going to get worse. If you fight against this reality, you won’t be able to help them. Accept the situation and start collecting information and resources to help you manage the new circumstances.
Step two: Make rules.
Decide which behaviors your parents need to stop, whether it is driving, being financially responsible or cooking. Find ways to accomplish these tasks so your parents don’t have to. Determine whether family members can step into the breach or whether you need a home health aide for at least some of the time.
Step three: Don’t argue.
It’s tempting to try to discuss the logic behind the new rules, but it’s unlikely that your parents will accept these arguments. A better way to deal with this is to come up with strategies for enforcing these rules. For instance, take your parents car to your house and keep the keys out of reach. Send a family member to do the grocery shopping or establish power of attorney to deal with financial issues.
Step four: Do be sympathetic
Although you have to be firm about not letting your parents do anything unsafe, you should acknowledge how hard it is for them to give up control and let go of life as they knew it. (Think about how hard it is for you, it’s even harder for them.) You can respect their feelings and allow them to express them freely without compromising their well being.
Step five: Allow them to parent you in other ways
You may have taken over a lot of the logistics of their lives, but your parents are still the people who nurtured you, gave you advice and helped you through rough times. There’s no reason why you can’t continue to respect their values and beliefs even as they get older and less independent. Wherever possible, maintain the old parent-child relationship, protect their dignity, and keep them both safe and happy.