Senior Story: Get to Know Your Aging Parents

By Nora Heston Tarte

As we age, family dynamics change. We may care for the parents who once cared for us.

Or, now that we don’t crave their guidance, they may not know how to be a part of our lives.

It’s normal for parent-child relationships to evolve. At each stage of our lives we need our parents in a different way, and they often bend to fit that role. Sometimes, we need them less.

As parents age, memory loss, dementia, and other health problems become real possibilities. Instead of offering care or assistance as dictated by medical limitations, make an effort to get to know your aging parents. Maybe they don’t want their children looking after them and instead would prefer an in-home senior care service. Or do you know how they feel about care homes? Is there anything they’re nervous about? These are things you won’t know until you sit down and have a real talk with them. Now that you’re older, you’ll likely have more in common, and you could be surprised what you learn.

Build a friendship
The easiest way to successfully get to know your parents as people is to build a friendship. No one says you have to be best friends with your parents, but being friends-at least a little-might be nice.

Treat getting to know your parents the same way you would treat getting to know a peer. The mindset alone will be beneficial. It’s easy to fall into a pattern of selfishness with parents because they love unconditionally and (usually) genuinely care what is happening in your life. With friends there is more give and take. Be a good friend to your parent and create a balanced relationship that doesn’t result in you reverting back to your five-year-old self that was all about me-me-me.

Interview your mother
Make it a game. Sit down with a list of questions you’ve always wanted to ask and have your mom run through them. Give her a couple of vetoes just in case.

If questions result in side stories and end in a string of tangents-that’s ok! The goal is to better understand who your mother is, not treat her like a contestant on Who Wants to be a Millionaire?: My Childhood Edition.

Think beyond the surface; ask questions like, do you have a lost love? What was the happiest moment of your life? What was school like for you as a kid? How would you like to be remembered? What’s the best vacation you ever went on without me?

Getting to know our parents as people, outside of who they were to us, can be a strange experience. But it’ll also feel nice to say you truly knew who your parents were as complete people, and not just parents.

Schedule dates
Don’t expect your relationship to thrive on the five minutes you chat after you’ve dropped off the kids. Make plans to see a movie one-on-one or plan a vacation together. Sharing new experiences is a quick way to build a new friendship, or strengthen an existing one.

Informed children make better caregivers
If you are not already fulfilling the role of caregiver in your parents’ lives, that day may be near. Don’t wait to step into the role. While your parents are healthy, gather the information you need to care for them when they are not. Do they wish to hire a Lynchburg home care agency? Do they want to stay independent? Or are they ok moving to a retirement home? These things are important to know.

Tagging along to a doctor’s appointment isn’t a bad idea. That way, when the time comes, you’ll be prepared to step in and have open dialogues with your parents’ physicians. Have discussions with your parents about the changes that are going to come into their life, particularly if they are suffering from an illness such as dementia. If your parent is suffering from a serious condition, you might need to have a conversation about topics such as; are they still practicing safe driving despite their condition? Should they move into a care home? Do they need 1-1 care? These are all things that you need to talk about whilst you still can.

Do it before it’s too late
As people age, lives become more fragile.

Don’t think about reaching out and then fail to follow-through. There will come a day when it’s too late and you will be forced to face the fact that you never really knew them, or at least not well enough.

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