At Cooperative Home Care and Cooperative Hospice, our focus is what to do after your aging parent’s health crisis. That’s why we are here! Yet, within the complex aging parent/adult child relationship, there are also many quieter challenges to navigate. How do we maintain a positive relationship as our roles evolve? Kerryann Kohut, MA English and adult child of aging parents, is a long-distance turned local caregiver leading us through her Fall Series: Live a Better Daily Life with Your Aging Parents. Here’s a preview of her honest and insightful perspective:
In June 2018 I relocated back to my hometown after living 18 years a significant distance away — and I’m living with my aging parents while I establish a new life here. While I know this situation isn’t ideal for many people, and even I sometimes question my sanity, I’m learning some practical lessons. Here are five tips I can offer since becoming an adult-housemate with the people who raised me.
Be willing to share your schedule sometimes
When I first moved, both of my parents were actively dealing with medical issues and neither one could drive. I was quite busy attending doctors’ appointments, grocery shopping, doing the laundry, and running any other errands that arose. It could feel a bit overwhelming, and sometimes I had to remind myself that doing these things took physical and mental stress off of my parents and aided in their healthy recoveries, which they wanted even more than I did.
Don’t take your parents independence, even if they try to give it to you
Helping out when my parents were both ailing became such a habit that it was difficult to step back even when they assured me they were capable of taking on their former activities and responsibilities. Then one day when I was working on an important work-project my dad asked me to run an errand for him that he was physically able to do. I realized that helping was turning into enabling and that to discourage my dad from some physical activity could over time make him less confident in his own abilities and independence. Encouraging my aging parents to stay physically and mentally active when it is safe made it easier to let go of certain tasks.
Recognize their routines, and then integrate into them instead of disrupting them
Routine is so important to a person’s daily well-being. I realized this very quickly when I moved back to my hometown after over 18 years and tried to create a new life from scratch. My parents definitely have their routines and can be quite serious about them. Knowing how powerless I felt without mine made me more readily adapt to theirs. Now I’ve even fully adopted some of their routines! And the feeling of well-being and balance this gives our house was well worth my efforts to be flexible.
Tiny things you do can make a big impact
I try to keep my eyes and ears open for ways I can quietly help my parents to be independent, healthy, and safe. My dad has some fine motor-skill issues and his hands can be weak at times. If I know we purchased a new container or bottle with a seal on it, I will remove it before I put it in the refrigerator even if I don’t plan to use it right that minute. For my mom, knowing she has chronic shoulder pain, I situate food, drinks, etc., to lower shelves in the refrigerator or cupboard to prevent her straining to reach them. And I park my car in a very specific spot in front of our house that is more level and near a railing they can use as a support. Being actively aware has made things safer for my parents.
Enjoy your aging parents
Focusing primarily on my aging parents’ health left me little time to focus on them as housemates and companions. Strengthening that bond through conversation and shared experiences helped them to see me as a helpful partner versus a scolding grown child, and developed an openness to my caregiving suggestions that they might have otherwise resented. A healthy familial relationship between us promoted a healthy environment in our shared home.