Mom and Dad are getting older, which means lots of changes are on the way. You may be walking down paths you’ve never experienced before.
But certain mistakes make the course that much harder for everybody.
And who wants that?
With a few reminders, you can avoid these pitfalls and find ways to enjoy the journey.
Mistake #1: Treating Them Like Children, i.e. “I’m Still Your Mother!”
You remember those moments as a teenager when you tried to sass your parents, thinking you were so grown up?
It still won’t work.
Mom will always be your mom, and treating her that way will help your relationship in so many ways.
- It helps her maintain her dignity.
- It encourages her to keep using her brain for decision-making. (“Use it or lose it.”)
- There will be times you still want a mother. If you treat her like a child, you’ll lose her faster.
It’s even one of the commandments:
“Honor your father and mother, that it may go well with you” (Deuteronomy 5:16 and Ephesians 6:3)
Howard Gleckman explains the dangers and difference in his article, “The Worst Advice for Family Caregivers: Parent Your Aging Parents.”
Yes, you may have to speak slower and simpler, but you can still speak with respect, from one adult to another.
- Don’t tell Mom what to do. Instead, talk through choices with her.
- If Dad’s struggling with dementia, don’t talk like you’re speaking to a child. Instead, think of how you’d explain to another adult who’s learning your language.
Because you aren’t parenting. You’re serving.
Mistake #2: Limiting What They Can Do, i.e. “Don’t Fence Me In”
Yes, you’re serving them, but don’t stop them from serving themselves.
Sometimes as we see Mom and Dad struggle to do things, we think we honor them by jumping in and doing it for them.
But that just makes them feel useless.
And like the mistake of treating them like children, limiting what they can do violates their top 10 emotional needs.
The more they can still do, the more they will still be able to do. Even if it’s slower. Let them use their muscles. All of them: heart, lungs, legs, arms, and brain.
- Encourage Dad to exercise, even if he needs to do it from a chair.
- Help him find or renew hobbies. (I just met an octogenarian who recently started singing in a choir—something he hadn’t done since he was in elementary school.)
- Don’t tell Mom to sit down while you fix dinner. Give her a task to do. (Folding napkins, tearing lettuce)
The last thing you want to do is make your parents feel like a burden. Sometimes, “keeping them safe” can feel like that.
And just because they can’t manage something one day, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try again the next. We all have days when things just feel harder—maybe it’s the weather, the barometric pressure, what we ate the night before, who knows? But suddenly, the next day is a breeze.
So every day, help them do as much as they can for themselves.
Mistake #3: Not Getting All the Facts About Their Situation, i.e. “That Ostrich in the Sand”
Sometimes, we don’t want to acknowledge the struggles Mom and Dad are having. Or we rush to a decision before we ask all the questions.
The latter sends us down paths that might not be right for our parents. The former? We’re stuck in the road unprepared for what’s coming at us.
- Keep an eye on how Mom’s moving. Is she falling a lot? Are her legs swollen? Feet taken care of?
- How’s Dad’s weight? Losing or gaining pounds rapidly? Is food rotting in the fridge?
- When was the last time they had blood work done? Eyes and ears checked?
- Are they forgetting things? Repeating things?
- Either one seem depressed? Like they’ve lost their spunk?
An assisted living pre-assessment can help you think of questions to ask even if you aren’t considering using the facility.
And when they go to the doctor, are you going with them?
- It’s always good to have someone there to ask clarifying questions.
- A second set of ears helps remember what’s said.
- Find out if any medications could be interacting with each other to cause worse symptoms
- For any suggested procedures, help your parents think through whether those will make their lives easier or if they could actually rob them of the health they have?
We want to believe our parents will always be strong—and that the medical field can give them back all the vitality they’ve enjoyed.
But taking time to really look at what they need can help them keep the freedoms they enjoy while giving them the support they need.
Mistake #4: Not Researching Options, i.e. “Early Bird Gets Much More than the Worm” (or “Last Minute Has to Pay the Rush Fee”)
No one knows what tomorrow brings. Mom falls and breaks her hip, Dad has unexpected health issues, you get sick….
But if you’ve investigated alternate routes ahead of time, you won’t be stuck jumping on some train that’s headed in a direction you all don’t want to go.
How do you research?
- Understand Wisconsin's Assisted Living Options
- Learn Tips to Find the Best Assisted Living Home
- Pay for Assisted Living without Breaking the Bank
- Make Mom’s Room Her Own when She Moves into Your Home or Assisted Living
You may have your ideal plan for how to care for your parents. Hopefully everything will go smoothly.
But check out the “just in cases” just in case.
Mistake #5: Not Communicating with Your Siblings, i.e. “Mom Still Wants You to Get Along”
Whether Mom made you and your brother hug at the end of a fight or forced you to stay outside ’til you played nicely, you knew she hated it when you fought.
So now more than ever, it’s important that you all talk.
- If your sister lives two days away and can’t see Dad as often, be sure you send her information as you get it. With digital media, it’s easier than ever. (My family discovered Marco Polo this year, so now we can send video chats all day long—free and easy. And often hilarious.)
- If half of the family thinks Mom and Dad are fine but the other half believes they can’t live alone anymore, it’s time to call a family meeting and work through it. (No boxing gloves allowed.)
- If you need to look into assisted living, take tours together.
Watching your parents grow older can come with some difficult moments. Make sure those aren’t between siblings.
Mistake #6: Not Giving Yourself Time to Adjust, i.e. “Sometimes It’s Okay to Cry Over Spilled Milk”
All these changes affect everyone emotionally and mentally. Each new stage has its own losses, which means you’re all grieving.
And grieving is work.
- If Dad is now sharing your living space, that’s an adjustment
- If you need to find time in your week—or even day—to visit him, that’s an adjustment
- If Mom is slowly forgetting who you are and doing strange things, you may feel like you’re losing her a little every day
Depending on what Mom and Dad are struggling with, you may need to put on a smile and act carefree with them. But be sure to find a friend, loved one, or counselor to talk through how hard it is.
It’s a fact: Tears can be healthy. Especially when you’re overwhelmed with a flood of milk.
Mistake #7: Letting Yourself Get Burned Out, i.e. “You’ve Got to Put Your Own Oxygen Mask on First”
If you’re burning at both ends—and then adding heat to the middle—your candle won’t last long.
- While you need to take a moment to grapple with changes, sometimes you just need an escape for a bit with some of these respite ideas.
- Can’t get away? Then try some simple escapes right where you are to get a fresh look at the same old.
Remember: You can’t care for Mom and Dad if you’re gasping for breath yourself.
Make No Mistake: You Don’t Have to Do This on Your Own, i.e. No Lone Rangers
There’s no denying some of the roads ahead might be tough as your parents age.
- Reach out to your friends and family. They’re probably longing to know how they can help.
- And Frontida is just a phone-call away. We write these posts to be a resource for you so you know you have someplace you can trust.
Is there something else you’re struggling with that you’d like us to write about? Let us know on Facebook.
Guest post written by Elizabeth Daghfal
Elizabeth Daghfal is a writer, teacher, speaker, and community volunteer. Born and raised in the South, she now lives in Wisconsin and loves it—except for the fifteen months of winter. She has a passion to help people who are struggling and is happy to say her shoulders are drip-dry.
When she isn’t teaching or writing—who are we kidding? Her husband and five kids say she’s ALWAYS teaching and writing. But she also loves reading, singing, creating art, and just trying to stay ahead of the stories and research in her head. Read more about her at elizabethdaghfal.com.