Ilona L. Tobin, Ed.D.

Licensed Psychologist

DOWNLOAD THIS ARTICLE AND MORE AS A PDF FILE by clicking this link: Thriving: A journal of wellbeing – WINTER 2008

Changing Relationships: Caring for Yourself While Caring for Your Aging Parents

With people living longer than ever before, more and more individuals find themselves sandwiched between caring for their children and caring for their aging parents.

Coping with our fast-paced, always-connected world is stressful enough, but when you add double or
triple the family responsibilities, well, it quickly gets overwhelming.

You’re probably losing time and energy worrying about things that aren’t getting done or things you have
to do next. You may not realize just how much physical and mental stress you are under, or how much that has been sapping your effectiveness at work and at home. Guilt may be a constant companion. While you take care of your parents, you may feel that you’re not doing enough for your children, and vice versa.

You may experience feelings of grief and loss, as you see your parents changing and the roles of your family
shifting. You may also feel fearful and anxious about your parent’s mortality, and that gets you thinking about your own.

With all of the extra time you need to take care of others, there is less time—if any—to spend on yourself
and the things that recharge you.

Here are five ways to take care of yourself while taking care of your
aging parents.

  1. First, meet your own needs. You can’t help anyone else if you are so sapped of energy and joy that you are miserable and lifeless. Block out time every day for something that’s just for you. Give equal attention to your emotional, spiritual and physical needs. Protect that time as your most important appointment—because it is!
  2. Get support for your parents. Seek out government and community resources for home care, medications, support groups, mobility aids and adaptive equipment. Keep organized
    records of your parents’ medical history, as well as the contact information and recommendations of
    everyone you consult with. You will rest easier knowing that professionals are involved and you’re not trying to make decisions that you’re not qualified to make.
  3. Get support for yourself. Reach out to supportive friends or family members; even a short phone
    call can give you a much-needed lift. Also, seek out a support group, or
    individual therapy or counseling. 
  4. Banish guilt. Accept that you’re doing your best and acknowledge the efforts you’re making. Actually list them on paper if you need to! If you notice yourself feeling guilty, ask yourself if you would want someone in the same situation as yours to feel guilty. The answer, certainly, is no.
  5. Celebrate life and family. As your family changes, focus on remembering and sharing positive
    memories of your life together. Also, create new rituals and traditions that everyone can participate in, such as sing-alongs, games, crafts or nature walks. Start right now with even one
    of these strategies. It will feel like a breath of fresh air, loosening the grip of your tightly packed life and infusing your entire family with renewed energy and joy.