Parenting While Caring for Aging Parents
Written by Judy Zexter
As people are living longer and also raising kids later in life, many parents are struggling with the particular demands of parenting while caring for their aging parents. Adjusting to your “baby’s” independence and your mom or dad’s increasing dependence can feel disorienting and even destabilizing. You may find yourself in unchartered waters, where your well-established roles in these relationships are shifting significantly. The expectations placed upon all of you are vastly different from what they once were. The new dynamics can bring about a multitude of stressors as you feel the responsibility to take care of all parties (hopefully yourself included) according to a new set of demands.
Being sandwiched between kids of any age and aging parents can be difficult. The biggest challenge of being sandwiched between teenagers and aging parents is the absence of clarity around how to best determine what’s developmentally appropriate, what’s the most suitable way to handle sensitive situations, when to insist and when to back off, how to ensure safety, and how to maintain everyone’s dignity while doing so. The changes in your teen and parent’s capacity to act independently can fluctuate, leaving you in an ambiguous position and making it feel impossible to keep up with their needs.
Common emotionally charged states that are experienced when sandwiched between teens and aging parents include:
- Grief over the loss of how things used to be
- Feeling under-appreciated particularly when unresolved relationship conflicts are heightened
- Feeling robbed of the break you’d been waiting for since you began parenthood
- Powerlessness from feeling a lack of control or influence
- Worry about your teen and parent’s judgment
- Uncertainty/confusion over determining when to intervene
- Feeling alone in it (as opposed to having a shared sense of partnership with a spouse or sibling)
- Fear of empty nest syndrome/how big the void will feel when there is no longer anyone to care for
- Concerns around your own mortality and aging process
As all family members continue to age, there will be ongoing adjustments that will elicit many emotions. It’s important to take the time to explore, identify and acknowledge what it is you’re actually feeling and experiencing. This will not only allow you to process and address any troubling emotional responses you are having, but enable you to proceed with intention as opposed to reaction.
If you have clarity and a determined purpose fueling your parenting and caregiving, chances are you will forge ahead in an effective, healthy and constructive manner. If you are unconsciously reacting to underlying emotions, you may be susceptible to resentment, depression, anxiety, and burn out. In this case and whenever feeling burdened by the intense juggling act that accompanies parenthood, setting limits and making self-care a priority are musts for your physical and mental well being.
So, try to incorporate self-care activities on a routine basis, keeping in mind that self-care is not an indulgence; it’s a necessity.
Some ideas to achieve this include:
- Getting consistent exercise
- Keeping a healthy diet
- Prioritizing sound sleep
- Partaking in mindfulness practices (yoga, meditation, deep breathing)
- Connecting and speaking with others who are not directly involved in your immediate family relationships (friends,colleagues, a therapist)
- Making sure to partake in recreational activities (reading a book, seeing a movie, attending a concert or comedy act, walking on the beach or at a park)
- Delegating tasks when possible
- Doing something nice for yourself (getting a massage, buying yourself a treat, indulging in your favorite foods)
- Giving yourself credit for all the efforts you make and for all that you do
If your intention is to be a solid presence in the lives of others, then it makes sense to start with providing solid care for yourself.
Judy Zexter, LSCW is a Santa Monica based psychotherapist and teen parenting expert with over 20 years of direct clinical experience working with individuals, couples, families and groups. With a focus on living and parenting with intention, she helps her clients face their challenges through a collaborative and empowering process that identifies and supports their true desires and values. www.judyzexter.com
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