As the adult child, when you step in to help a parent, you will notice a shift to your familiar roles. I don’t consider it a true role reversal and believe treating it as such will only make helping your parent more difficult.
Three things I learned as I was stepping in to help my parents:
- When you are asked for help, do it and consider how you can work in tandem. While it might be easier for you to do something alone, recognize that an individuals need for “meaning” and “purpose” are two very important needs. Consider your role as “partner” not “parent”.
- Being right doesn’t matter. Early on, in what I feel is the most difficult part of the caregiving journey, I tried to point out all the ways my parents were failing to illustrate to them that something was wrong. The truth was that they no longer had short-term memory. When I would tell them I was concerned about them driving because they got lost on the way over, they didn’t recall they got lost and responded to my concern as if I had just made up a tall tale. I learned to focus on how I could help and what I could control. For a period of time, I would call several times a day to see if I could give them a ride or pick up something they needed on my way over. It wasn’t easy, but it was what I could do.
- Maintain respect for the parental role. Even into the moderate stages of dementia, my parents still had moments of clarity, felt emotions, and sensed a snub. They are still your parent, even if you are stepping in to care for them in ways that don’t fit your former roles. As the dementia progressed, I grew softer and even more respectful of who they were as they were continuing to slip further away.
I vividly recall the day I was driving my parents to the grocery store and my mom turned to me and said “You didn’t expect to end up with four kids did you?” It was easy for me to share with my parents that I always wanted four, but after having two, re-calibrated my wishes. We all had a good laugh. Reflected.