Women, children, parents and carers
Many of us in our 50s and 60s will be juggling children and ageing parents. And if we thought looking after our children was difficult, just wait until ageing parents enter the mix. Parents can be more challenging than you could ever imagine and strangely enough no-one tells you how hard this can be nor the frustrations and emotions that will leave you feeling exhausted.
The Balancing Act
Balancing your parents’ freedom, independence and respecting their decision making, especially when there may be medical complications and sometimes memory issues, can see relationships tested to the limit.
My mother has Alzheimer’s and is also deaf so we skip around the same repeated conversations. She is as ‘stubborn as a coot’ which is what made her so formidable and resilient when she was younger. Recently she was not well and refused to call the ambulance, she also forbade me to call the emergency services saying ‘I will not go into hospital’. She was more worried about leaving her dog than she was herself.
So, what do you do when you find yourself at an impasse knowing that you want to do the right thing and also knowing that you will be vilified for it. Well, in my case I told her that I wasn’t calling the ambulance and told her I would drop everything and drive over (she lives on the south coast and I was working in the west end of London). After finishing my conversation, I called the ambulance anyway and left work immediately.
When I arrived, she was so ‘delighted’ that the young ambulance men who had arrived were diligent, caring and gave her a most thorough medical check-up. It had made her day!
Preparing to become a caregiver
Nothing prepares you for becoming your parent’s caregiver. Nothing prepares you for having to take over their affairs and nothing prepares you for having to tread very respectfully and to manage disagreements about the right course of action to be taken. You will find that your parents are used to telling you what to do and do not take kindly to being told themselves.
Most children looking after their aging parents try hard to help them and often come up with creative ideas and advice to try to make their independence a little easier. The problem you encounter is they will often listen to you but don’t take a blind bit of notice and carry on regardless not changing anything.
You will find the chair lift that you bought for the bath to make it easier to get in and out without a struggle, abandoned in a cupboard because it is too much hassle – or a matter of pride.
My mother is always cold in bed and always (like most of her generation) thinks that weight or heaviness in bed clothes will make her warm. I invested in a high tog top of the range goose down quilt. Needles to say it might not have lasted even one night. I have searched the house for it but cannot find it, I think she has kindly given it to charity thinking that someone else will benefit.
These are all little things I know, but compounded over time makes you feel frustrated. With Alzheimer’s, dementia, medical issues and just ageing generally, your relationship and bond starts to erode making you feel helpless, at a loss and just generally guilty.
My mother turns 80 this year and at some point we will have to have ‘the conversation’. I hope not for a few years but I also know this will be difficult and sad. I know that I should be more prepared than most with my background. Respecting your parents’ dignity will be key to getting the balance.
Looking after yourself
With all this in mind, juggling work commitments and your own family commitments, you may need to find a little assistance and breathing space yourself. You will need your own strength and health to keep you going, and you may find getting a little help for you rather easier than your for your parents.
A few years ago, I attended a conference and the main speaker was HRH Princess Ann. She spoke very passionately about being the Patron and President of the Carers Trust for over 20 years. It does not just cover elderly or ageing parents but young and not so young who find themselves being the primary carer in a family. If this sounds like you and you need help in finding the right resources, you may find Carers.org a good place to start.
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