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. Part One, The Number One Reason We Want to Control Our Aging Parent, is eye-opening.
In June 2018 I relocated back to my hometown after living 18 years a significant distance away and I’m living near my aging parents while I establish a new life here. I am definitely enjoying and appreciating this new everyday relationship I’m building with them! An additional bonus, I believe, is that my fresh eye on them and their older lifestyle is revealing some practical lessons I can use to support them in living their most productive, healthy, and safe lives.
The first revelation for me was that I needed to learn how to share all over again-this time as an adult with parents who sometimes needed my help in one form or another. When I moved, both of my parents were actively dealing with medical issues, and while my mom hadn’t driven for years, suddenly my dad couldn’t either. Their appointments and follow-ups were so numerous during that initial period that I postponed looking for a job to focus on them and their health.
But it was beyond just driving my parents to their appointments. Both of my parents were physically weaker, and I started grocery shopping for them as well, fearing a fall or general overtiredness from standing too long. I did their laundry, one small load a day as per their daily routine because their washing machine and dryer are in the basement-accessible only by a flight of 15 steep steps.
I will admit I became overwhelmed after a few months. Not always, but at times, I was irritable or impatient then felt guilty for behaving less than kindly. Soon I recognized that unless my perspective changed, my presence would be more torturous than it would be helpful-but I struggled to figure out how to do that. Until one night my dad and I were arguing about him driving again and he accused me of wanting him to be under my control. He said it so suddenly and so emphatically that it momentarily stunned me and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I realized that, in a way, he was right. I did want to control the situation, but purely for my parents’ safety, right? No, I wanted to control what happened and what they did so that I wouldn’t worry, potentially ignoring their desires for independence and continued confidence in the aging adult lives and routines they created and followed.
So I started to let go of my control where it wasn’t a health or safety issue. My parents started doing their own laundry again, then grocery shopping together for short trips, and finally my dad, with his doctor’s blessing, began driving again. The slower transition let them keep rebuilding their strength and let me keep rebuilding my perspective on their abilities, their wishes, and our “shared” relationship. I am confident my revelation will allow me to best aid my parents for their well-being and peace of mind instead of just my own.