This material has been developed by and is presented by The Sandwich Generation ®
CONVERSATIONS WITH CAROL #1
You may also feel helpless, pulled in too many different directions, tied down, alone, and that awful word guilty.
Generally, a combination of both of these sets of words are common to describe our relationship with aging parents. And even in cases, where were not involved on a daily basis with elder parent care, these same words are appropriate.
As we become more involved, we continue to love them, want to protect them, and keep them safe and independent. We worry about them. What is new is that we now need to nurture them on an emotional basis. We need to help them retain their own individuality and integrity as a human being.
As we did with our children, we sometimes get angry, frustrated, upset. All the words we just mentioned. But in a sense, cant we feel this way in any relationship?
With a spouse? A sibling? A friend?
These are normal feelings and responses to events and situations. Admittedly, the outcome is different. Children become more independent and move out. Aging parents become more dependent and move in.
But it is important that we accept the declining of a persons physical and mental capabilities as a normal human aging process. It is important that we focus on the love and respect we had for our parents when they were healthy and independent. When they did for us.
This is not easy. Its very difficult to see once vibrant active people become frailer and less able to take care of themselves.
Early on, I came to the conclusion that the most difficult element to handle involved emotions, feelings; my own and my parents as they became more needy.
Actions and reactions are all tied up with emotions. Everything anyone does is tied up with feelings and how things are perceived. Most caregivers do not have the time to step back and look at the emotions of those around them. But it certainly makes things easier if we know where that other person is coming from.
Lets go back to roles. You need to take your head off of your own shoulders and put on the head of your parent. A once physically and mentally dynamic human being is emotionally battered. She (and I use she in a generic sense because more elderly are women) has lost a number of roles that were important to her. She may no longer be a wife or mother in the traditional sense. She may have lost a number of people who were important to her. Her spouse, possibly siblings, friends, relatives, and maybe even one of her own children. She may have lost her home, in which she lived all or most of her married life. She has lost many of her abilities to do for herself and for others.
Think of the losses your parent has had in recent years. Think about how your aging parent must be feeling? Needless to say, she may not be a happy camper.
As we, as caregivers, feel were being pulled in many directions and torn apart, our parents are going through the same emotional process. They feel they are being pulled in different directions by other people, sometimes by strangers. And they feel -- and in many cases correctly so -- that they have lost control of their own lives.
As we age and lose capabilities, and are no longer playing the roles society has expected of us, lowered feelings of self-esteem come into play. Unfortunately, society looks down on people who do not play a productive role.
So the biggest challenge of being a sandwich generationer is to understand the feelings of aging parents and to deal with them in a way that the dignity of the older person is preserved.
An integral part of role reversal -- of our becoming a parent to our parents -- is our taking the leadership role. This is not easy and presents both a societal and individual dilemma. This new role certainly impacts the relationship between every aging parent and their adult children.
As a parent with young children, society says it is ok to do everything for them and no one challenges you. You, as a parent, are the control point.
Also, society acknowledges that its ok to get angry and frustrated as kids struggle to develop themselves as people and may not listen to us.
With elders, society has not yet acknowledged adult childrens feelings and their frustrations. So everyone needs to reach the point where we say to ourselves and to our parents, yes, its ok to do these tasks for our parents and to have the same feelings of frustration, anger, anxiety, and the desire to protect them -- often from themselves.
In our first visit, weve talked about the various role we play throughout our lifetime -- focusing on the parent role -- first, as a parent to young children; and then as a parent to an aging parent.
As a parent to young children, we know what to do; what is expected of us. Our objective is to help the child grow and become independent. We are the boss. We feel comfortable in that role because society has set up behavior parameters and expectations.
However, when we have to become a parent to our own parents, its a different ball game. We are dealing with mature people who have controlled their lives and lifestyle very well without us. Now, their capabilities -- often both physical and mental -- begin to fail.
As Ive said, one of the greatest challenges is to nurture their feelings of self-esteem.
This means we need to take the leadership role in bringing more happy things into a parents life. This is relatively easy when they are healthy. But as they become ill or frail, it may not be so easy. But it is important to them -- to be accepted for who they now are and loved even though they can no longer play the traditional roles.
In between being more and more concerned with their loss of capabilities, I tried to bring more happy events into my parents lives. My sister had a surprise 60th wedding anniversary party for my parents. My father had tears in his eyes as he looked at all the family and friends gathered together. Im glad we did it. They did not reach their 61st anniversary.
I had a surprise 90th birthday party for my mother at a local hotel. The next year, I just invited a few close relatives to the house for a pizza lunch. My mother was the center of attention, and she loved that. Im glad I did it because she passed away several months before her 92nd birthday.
In the days to come, in our visits together, well talk about Choices and Self Protection; Helping a Parent maintain independence and self esteem; evaluating alternative care, and much much more. I look forward to our next visit.
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