How to Emotionally Support Your Parents When They Become Your Responsibility

Hindsight is 20/20

As both my husband and I have been through the journey of caring for our parents these past years, emotional support for parents and loved ones is a topic I feel is important to approach at halftime. (How do You Know You’re at Halftime?) Most of those entering or already in the halftime of their life will soon be facing aging parents and others, if not already. It is better to have a bit of foresight in this area as hindsight is 20/20 and it’s a great feeling to have no regrets when dealing with this issue. I have included a FREE Worksheet below to help you start this process.

First of all, we all realize that our bodies are growing older, even though we don’t want to face that fact too soon. It’s especially apparent as we see our parents and others who have gone before us gradually be able to do less and less. They can’t bend down the way they used to. Their reactions aren’t as quick and there are many other signals that say their day of more limited movement is coming! It’s like the beginning of a sunset.

Emotional Support

The process of emotional support begins in our minds with deciding what kind of adult child we’re going to be. In our family’s case, we were very committed to making sure our parents were cared for with an emotional commitment on our end. The fact is, our parents took very good care of us growing up and now we wanted to make sure they were cared for at this time of their life. At a certain point, there’s a clock ticking and the gun has gone off in the race for the end. That may sound depressing, but it’s just a fact. Even King Solomon said in the book of Ecclesiastes (Ecclesiastes 3:1-2) There is a season for every purpose under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die. The song Turn, Turn, Turn, written by Pete Seeger and adapted by the folk group, The Byrds was a number one Billboard hit in 1965.

In this article we’re going to approach a few mindsets pertaining to emotionally supporting parents with commitment, time, finances, communication and living arrangements. We will barely scratch the surface here, but the process should be approached step-by-step as this is a journey most of us go through at halftime with parents and loved ones. A huge question for most is when to start stepping in. Our aging parents are just like us in many ways, usually very independent and a bit proud. There is a fine line to be drawn with communication, but I would urge you to not avoid conversations. You can use humor and a bit of self-effacement to approach sensitive subjects.

Care conversation-Emotional Support

Type of Care

For my father-in-law, he started his 5-year journey of Dementia while my mother-in-law was still able to care for him, though she soon developed neuropathy. At first, we brought in an outside caregiver three days a week for four hours a day. When my mother-in-law tripped on a throw-rug, (note: get rid of ALL throw rugs when getting older!) we were quickly thrust into providing full-time care for both parents. Because we had started the process with limited care, it made this step a bit easier. Many parents communicate their wishes to stay in their own home, even with physical challenges, and ours were no exception.

At-home care is fairly expensive and with state regulations that seem to change often. We were hit with having to hire multiple teams that could only work a certain number of hours at a time. Otherwise, overtime had to be paid, which added up quickly. One of the problems we faced with at-home caregiving was when our parents developed a close relationship with a certain caregiver, staying a certain number of hours, another rotated in that wasn’t as desirable in their eyes. Even though the quality from the organization we chose (Visiting Angels) was good, each caregiver had a different personality and was a bit of an adjustment for our parents, constantly having different visitors in their home, even staying the night. At the time of this article, much home-care will be pushing $20 hour and you can be spending up to $15,000 or more a month, easy. There are options in financing this care with reverse mortgages or the sale of a home if your parents own their home and there are many sources to help you with this, if needed.Importance of Communication

Communication is such an important part of this journey. Your parents or loved ones may not want to talk about care or living arrangements anytime soon. We found in speaking with our parents they didn’t want to move to a place with all those old people. (And you can’t just tell them to look in the mirror!) They may feel you want them just to move now and get it done with, so approaching this gently and asking them about their wishes is very important. You will be asking them to talk about their finiteness and that’s a tough one. Even for most of us!

My father approached much of this communication head-on, setting up family meetings with my sisters and I. He had his trust together and had lists of where everything was, which was extremely helpful for us after he passed. From the first moment we found out he had two types of cancer, he was gone in eleven weeks which was a total shocker. There were some issues we wish we had approached much earlier. Even though he communicated about the main details of the trust, he still had a very difficult time giving up medical and financial directives until his dying breath, which we needed desperately to take care of our mother, facing Dementia.

Practical and Directive Issues

If we had approached more of the practical and directive issues when he was 60 instead of 88, it may have been easier. It would have also been helpful to know more about his business, which he left many loose ends for us to handle and we had to learn on the fly all the details of rentals that were losing money, payments that were months late, a building that was incredibly run down and no lease agreements in place, etc… Dad was a good ol’ boy from the south and a handshake was his word. He had also been caring for our dear mother for the last 10 years of his life so his attention was focused there, which was the right thing to do. We were left with mounds of paperwork that was very organized, but details that had not been taken care of and no Power of Attorney to do anything about it until we made an appointment with a very expensive Trust Attorney.

Emotional Support Worksheet

The sooner you can have those conversations, the better as most of us feel death is farther away than it could be. You can have a much more reasonable and theoretical conversation, not dealing with emergencies, if you start approaching those conversations earlier than later. Many reading this will live a distance from aging parents. Ideally, at least one sibling will live close enough to check in often. One of my sisters lived five minutes from the senior community where my mother was living. With the amount of health emergencies she faced in her last year, it was extremely helpful to have my sister close and I know she wouldn’t trade that opportunity of caring for our dear mother for a heap of gold.  

I would urge you, if at all possible, to not stop your life to care for a parent. You may have great intentions and want to give back, but unless you are currently in the caregiving field, it will be super easy to burn out. Get help and explore your options. You can love them just as much and thoroughly with qualified and loving help.

Five main Mindsets for Emotional Support:

Mindset One: Commitment. What is your commitment as an adult child or friend to your parents or loved ones? You can be committed, yet not have caregiving take over your life. This is a conscious decision and a bit of foresight and preparation is extremely helpful.

Mindset Two: Approach the elephant in the room early. Start your communication process early with a couple questions now and then about what their wishes will be in different scenarios. Also ask about business, insurance, important documents and any other details that will be helpful. At some point you won’t be able to ask those questions, so the earlier the better. Document those answers so you can retrieve them easily when needed.

Mindset Three: Make the most of every moment. Even though personalities can be frustrating, especially as loved ones grow older with complaints and mood swings, try to celebrate the little things and love them. Remember there are some physical things that go along with aging, such as Sundowners. At some point, you won’t be able to kiss them goodbye or hold their hand. Enjoy them now.

Mindset Four: Make modifications needed sooner than later. In my opinion, get rid of all throw rugs earlier than too late. We had two parents trip and both broke a hip. It is not worth keeping a pretty rug in a bathroom. Also, plan ahead for grab bars by the toilet, in the shower and any small ramps, even for a small step. Many homes built in the 70’s had sunken living rooms and that step can be extremely dangerous. Who knows, you may enjoy those additions yourself!

Mindset Five: Do the Math. If your parents own their home, you will have more options for providing in-home care, either bringing in a caregiver or having a family member take over their care. Explore most every option with best-case, second and even third choices. You may have to use all three.

Get it FREE Now: How to Emotionally Support Your Parents and Loved Ones Worksheet

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About the Author:

DEBORAH JOHNSON, M.A., creator of Hero Mountain® and former president of Los Angeles National Speakers Association, is an international award-winning music artist, author, speaker and National Media Commentator. Deborah provides tools to create your ideal lifestyle and work during the halftime of life, getting unstuck. You can live your second half fulfilled, focused and free! Up for multiple GRAMMY Awards and spending over 20 years in the entertainment industry, she's an expert on how to constantly reinvent yourself in a gig-economy. She is also the recipient of the 2018 Women's Economic Forum Exceptional Women of Excellence Award. Deborah is the author of four books and speaks and performs in both live and virtual events.