When Family Members Adjust to Their New Roles

By Carol Heffernan
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Focus on the Family
Most parents are accustomed to caring for their children—no matter their ages. So what happens when these roles reverse?

Within a brief span of time, adult children can find themselves responsible for Mom and Dad. Watching a parent grow vulnerable and dependent is an uncomfortable transition. But shifting family roles are becoming increasingly common as more and more people try to meet the demands of their own children, while feeling the tug to assist their aging parents.

Providing care for parents, whether local or long-distance, lasting months or years, involves major change. With financial implications, strain among family members and difficult decisions at every turn, it’s no wonder so many caregivers and potential caregivers feel overwhelmed.

But don’t despair. There are practical ways to prepare for and adjust to the new roles within a family.

  • Talk with your aging parents early—before too many challenges arise. It’s one thing to sit down as a family for an honest discussion about care preferences before a crisis develops. It’s another to do so after receiving a disheartening diagnosis. Certainly, it isn’t easy talking with your siblings and parents about the “what if’s.” But listening to your parents, involving everyone in the decision-making and working together to set up a plan will be worth it in the long run.

  • Assess finances—both yours and your parents. From savings accounts to medical insurance to routine tasks like paying bills and balancing the checkbook, the whole family can attain a sense of relief from having money matters in order.

  • Collect medical information and learn the medical history. Many parents are notorious for keeping the extent of their ailments under wraps, especially when it comes to telling their children. Who are your parents’ doctors? What medications are your parents taking? What are the dates of their recent medical tests? It pays off to have this information available if and when the need arises.

  • Keep communication lines open among siblings. It’s all too easy for turmoil to erupt when discussing “what Dad or Mom wants.” Adding emotions, finances and family history to the mix can result in damaged relationships; this is a time when family members really need one another. Try to remain sensitive, work through disagreements calmly and keep in mind that these relationships will endure for years to come.

  • Accept these changes as a natural part of life. No one would deny that watching a parent fall ill or grow weak with age is an emotionally draining experience. Yet hiding or diminishing painful emotions may lead to withdrawal, depression or anger. Working through the stages of grief is a necessary part of facing the inescapable realities of living and dying. Though there is no right or wrong way to endure the mourning process, understanding the stages of bereavement can help when adjusting to this new season in life.

Copyright © 2007 Carol Heffernan. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

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