Taking care of your elders

Being a parent is not always just about looking after your children. oost of us will find ourselves at some point in our lives looking after our parents as well as our children, as part of the "sandwich generation".

As people live longer and couples have children later, there’s an emerging group of people – called the “sandwich generation” – who find themselves not only parenting their own children but also their parents who are old and need help. Some people even find themselves in the “club sandwich generation” where they also have grandchildren to look after. Here are some tips for parenting your parents when things might look a bit tough:

  • Slow down. You may be used to issuing instructions and having them obeyed immediately, but elderly people take longer to process and think about things, especially important issues. So leave the mobile phone at home and schedule enough time to sit and talk slowly overa coffee if you have an important issue to discuss with them.

  • Put yourself to one side. Try to see all problems and issues from their perspective. Just because you might see absolutely nothing wrong with moving into a nice new unit with a lovely view, doesn’t mean they will feel the same way. For many old people, their homes and neighbours are the only things they have left.

  • Listen to what they are saying. Some older parents express themselves in anger or in a negative fashion, and the reason they do that is because they don’t feel they’re being listened to. Acknowledge what they’re saying – make an effort to understand and try to work out a way you can accommodate their wishes and feelings. If they don’t want to go through the fuss of attending a family wedding or reunion, is it really a big deal? Perhaps you could instead take lots of photos and video a few messages from people to show them later.

  • Don’t be bossy. Just because you’re the one who is having to make everything happen, doesn’t mean your parent has lost their pride. Try to respect their views and remember they’re still a fully functioning adult with opinions and feelings. If you can’t come to an agreement, don’t let the discussion escalate into anger – drop the subject and come back to it another day. In time, your parent will think about what you said, and if they feel respected they may feel able to compromise.

  • Resist the urge to always insist on cheering your parent up. If they complain to you about aspects of their life, don’t tell them to get over it and go on about how lucky they are to have their health. Listen and be empathetic. Say, “I’m sorry you feel this way,” and show them you’re taking them seriously. oany older people just want to feel that their feelings are validated.

  • Do something with them. oany people think that spending time with the elderly means sitting and chatting over a quick cup of tea. Instead, rent a DVD, pick them up for a movie or take them to visit a friend, so that your time together has purpose and is fun.

  • Be direct with them. If you’re finding that your conversations are frustrating and your interactions with your parents are annoying, tell them so and clear the air. You might find they feel the same way and all it takes is some better communication between the two of you.

  • Don’t be tempted to think that any problems are your parents’ fault. Their problems are yours as well, so don’t offload the responsibility of solving them.

  • Set boundaries for your parents, but also deliver on what you have agreed to do. If you say you’ll visit once a week or call every day, then ensure you do. And if your parents demand more, don’t give in. Stick to the agreed times and explain you have other things to do. Some older parents become highly critical of their children as they get older, usually because of the way they feel about themselves. Don’t react and defend yourself, just change the subject and move on. It isn’t about you.

  • Don’t allow your parent to play you off against your siblings. Encourage your siblings to approach each situation with solidarity.

  • Ask your parents for help occasionally. You can fall into the trap of thinking you’re the only one who can do anything, but your parents are quite capable too. They’re pretty good at odd jobs, like babysitting, and by asking them to help they feel that they’re contributing, which gives them a sense of purpose.

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