No one wants to intrude in their parents’ lives. But many members of the “Sandwich Generation,” a term used to describe adult children feeling squeezed between the needs of an aging parent and the demands of their own children, spouses and careers, have reached the point where they need to consider stepping in. If your aging loved one is experiencing memory problems, making questionable financial decisions or having trouble with activities of daily living, it might be time to intervene.
Managing this parent-child role reversal isn’t always comfortable, but when done right, it can be very rewarding. They put up with your diapers, detentions and delusions for a long time, so it helps to view this experience as a chance to pay a little of that love back.
Here are some tips to make the role reversal transition smooth for the more than 44 million adult children caring for their parents.
Get Involved Sooner Rather Than Later
Planning ahead makes the process easier, so it helps to start having conversations about the eventual role reversal while your parents can still be in charge. Then, when you do have to gradually step it, it won’t be totally new. However you begin the conversation — and no matter the reception you get — the point is that you can be an advocate for them and that your involvement ensures that they can have security and dignity in their twilight years.
Don’t Go It Alone
Before you start the conversation with your parents, spend some time thinking about your caregiving role. Caregiving for older parents is a team sport. It involves preparing a care plan, assessing medical needs, monitoring medication, assisting with basic needs, preparing meals, housekeeping, transferring and transporting, providing companionship, and monitoring the performance of their care.
If you’re the family member faced with a parent — or parents — who needs help, the key is to build a caregiving team. Caregiving should never be done by just one person. If you’re the only person caring for your mom, it’s not good for you or her. Don’t hesitate to call on family and friends for help, use the internet to communicate with your team, and identify community resources that offer services to older people and their families.
Respect Their Desires
Shared decision-making is a critical component of managing the role reversal. When decision-making is shared, your parents and their caregiving team collaborate to meet their needs while also honoring their goals, priorities, preferences and values. This pertains to everything from nutrition and finances to living situations and health care. Hold a caregiving team meeting so everyone can share their views and help decide how best to proceed.
If you’re the primary caregiver, a care team not only provides backup when you need it, but it also means that there are more people to suggest potentially helpful changes. By sharing caregiving with a team, you support one another, reduce both the burden and the cost, and help keep your loved one at home.