By Joy Loverde
Developing a more balanced relationship between aging parents and adult caregivers is always a good idea. Besides, helping our aging parents to continuously create purpose in their life is a life-sustaining process, according to Dr. Roger Landry, a preventive medicine physician and president of Masterpiece Living (www.mymasterpieceliving.com).
And when was the last time you asked your aging parents to help you? Most people have a strong desire to be useful within the family – especially elderly family members. Simple tasks like folding clothes, washing dishes, baking cookies and table-top gardening may be just what they need to contribute to the quality of your life.
On another related topic, when our aging parents are perfectly capable of doing little things for themselves – like getting a glass of water or turning off a light, why do we jump up and help them and wait on them? And how do we get them used to the idea of not being “waited on?” Are we creating unnecessary helplessness when we do things like this?
My “Golden Rule” in family caregiving is this: never do for your aging parents what they can do for themselves.
Think for a moment about different things you are doing right now that your aging parents can easily accomplish on their own. Make a list of current tasks, starting with the small ones (such as getting them a glass of water). Then, next time your parent asks for water, very calmly and pleasantly the say, "You are able to get the water for yourself, and I am very comfortable in my chair right now, so please get the water yourself. I know you can do it." The first time your parent hears these words he or she may be shocked, and may even throw a tantrum. Again, as calmly as possible remind your parent that they are quite capable of accomplishing this easy task.
Yes, saying these words and not getting out of your chair will feel very awkward at first. What’s more, you’re likely to feel guilty, even afraid; but gather the courage to do it just the same. Your parent may have come to expect too much (you unknowingly set yourself up for this situation), and now is the time to end this behavior.
The process of saying “no” gets easier over time. Slowly but surely your parents will begin to understand that there are limits to what we family caregivers will and will not do for them on a moment-to-moment basis. Who knows, accomplishing small tasks on their own may be just what our elders need to feel good about themselves.
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