Until last year, I never thought of my parents as ‘old’ or ‘vulnerable’. But then coronavirus hit and suddenly they were lumped in the over 70s group.
Overnight, I went from being the carefree child in the relationship to the agonising parent. There was a complete role reversal. Ringing them to check they weren’t going out, make sure they felt OK… And after speaking with friends, I know I’m not the only one! But I never took a moment to think how this made them feel. They’re healthy, active and very much looking towards the future despite the pandemic. I quickly realised that I needed to reconcile my fears with their hopes.
Whilst the circumstances that prompted this balance of power shift are extraordinary (who could have foreseen a pandemic hitting?), it made me realise that I needed to speak with (and really listen to) my parents. Now, at a time when they luckily are healthy, switched on and know what they want.
I’ve listed below three conversations you need to have to support your ageing parents. They will help you turn any worry you’re feeling into something proactive. So even when we’re not together right now, we can still help them.
This is what I’ve become! A child who won’t leave my parents alone, circling them (from afar) to make sure they’re OK. Whilst on the one hand this makes them feel loved, it can be annoying too if they don’t feel ready for it (yes, this is what they have told me!). We’re worried about our parents (and quite rightly, given the recent situation) but projecting our fears on them won’t help.
Stop assuming you know what they need and instead, have a good conversation with them. Talk about your current concerns and listen to theirs. Find out how they’re spending their time, what they want to do and how you can really help them now. Chances are, this will come to much more good (and an action list) then just assuming you know what is right.
There could be a time in the future (near or far) when your parents will need more support. The more you can plan for this together when they have capacity, the easier this will be for everyone. This may not be the lightest conversation to talk about, but it could well be one of the most important of your life. Understanding their views on staying at home or moving to an assisted living facility, getting an update on their health and what’s really important to them will mean you’re all on the same page and can act with their best intentions when the time comes. Speak with them about their will and power of attorney too – these legal documents need to be arranged when someone still has capacity, and putting them in place could save heartache down the track.
If you’ve got siblings or other family members to involve, then bring them into the fold and divide roles up. You’re amazing but you can’t (and shouldn’t) need to be across absolutely everything. Everyone has different skill-sets so play to this. Looking after our parents when the time comes is going to be difficult (emotionally, logistically, maybe financially) so the more that individuals can take on roles more suited to them, the easier the process will be.
Jessica Silver and Nancy Farmer run Elwell, a business that helps people look after their parents. To find out how you can help yours and keep your distance at the same time, check out their course here