Compassionate Caregiving

Claire Berman, a NYC writer and expert on caregiving, authored a book in 2005 entitled Caring for Yourself While Caring for Your Aging Parents. Fast-forward 10 years to another article Berman wrote for The Atlantic. Here, she writes about the opposing point of view: what aging parents want from their kids. We can’t speculate why it took ten years, but the author—to her credit—admits it was a “glaring omission.” Now that she herself is an “aging parent” she able to see things through more compassionate eyes. But is it that easy?

I have a friend whose parents are now both in their mid-90s. His mother raised eight children and lived to tell about it. And after the entire brood was out of the house and on their own, she threw herself head first into social groups of card-playing, fun-loving empty-nesters, took up long distance bicycling, and travelled the Interstates between cold and warm climates chasing the sun so she could keep riding and moving from one activity to the next. At 85, the kids took away the keys and sold her MiniCooper. Her depression was palpable for months.

Different perspectives between aging parents and the children are unavoidable because the need for parents to hold on to their independence is so great. The article says it well: aging parents want to be cared about, but fear being care for. They want to remain independent and still have that special connection with their children and grandchildren. They don’t mind when the children are thoughtful and offer to help out, but it can be hurtful when new rules and restrictions are “imposed” on the parents without consensus.

The dynamics of the relationship between the aging parent and the child can be tricky. Some experts say that it’s just a continuation of the family dynamics from the past—a child trying to please a parent who can’t be pleased—or a domineering parent who was unable to allow their child to make their own decisions. At the end of the day, the family able to step back from a decision just long enough to let compassion rule the day will make those decisions with less stress and more love.

For more reading on this topic, we recommend The Caregiving Season: Finding Grace to Honor Your Aging Parent by Jane Daly. It’s packed with good humor, personal stories and practical wisdom.