Why Parent Care is not Child Care

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Most of us find it difficult to know when to step in and provide parent care.  We are used to seeing our parents as capable.  It can come as rude shock the first time we realize that they are vulnerable and need our help.

Some people talk about this transition as "parenting" your parents.  This is a perspective that I don't agree with. I think it's wrong to approach your parent care responsibilities as if your parent is a child. While you may be providing care that parallels child care, like making decisions, providing personal care, having them live with you, child care and parent care are very different.  Your parent no matter how dependent, is still an adult.

The hardest part of providing parent care can be accepting that your relationship with your parent is changing.

Ways in which Parent Care is not like Child Care

  • Your main tool is persuasion.  It's your job to guide your parent by influencing her decision making not by exerting authority over her.
  • Your parent is on a path where she may become more dependent as time passes. Your parent care role will likely grow.
  • Your parent has fully formed opinions and preferences and you must take them into account.
  • Your parent is an adult. Your efforts are to support your parent not to help her develop, change or grow.
  • Even if they act in a childlike manner, she deserves the dignity accorded to adults.

Four Tips as Your Parent Care Increases

  1. Move as slowly as you can.  Many times an elder care emergency is why children step up their parent care.  This makes it hard to take things slow.  Resist the temptation to make lots of changes at once.  Prioritize changes to slow down the transition.
  2. Encourage your parent to participate in as many elements of the eldercare decision making process as she can to show respect for your parent's adult status.
  3. Don't expect your progress to be a straight line.  Expect both progress and set backs.
  4. Entering into active parent care is a highly emotional time for you and your parent.  Make sure that both of you have someone to confide in and offer emotional support.

What has been the biggest challenge of taking on parent care responsibilities?

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--Janice Wallace

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