Patient and Caregiver Resources

Becoming Your Parent’s Caregiver: Relationship Tips for Adult Children

Parent-child struggles are part of human nature. But as parents advance in age and their adult children become their caregivers, blurring identities often intensify these tensions. This can create tremendous strain on everyone’s ability to manage the day-to-day stresses of their new roles. If your changing relationship with your aging parent is causing distress, there are some relatively simple ways to make the transition easier on you both.

Keep an open mind

As your parent ages, it’s important to maintain an open mind about your interactions with them. Understand that the aging process is difficult on them as well. Their life is changing, as is yours, and these changes are often frightening and complicated. The fewer expectations you place on your relationship, the easier it will be to remain flexible and adaptive as you both travel this unfamiliar territory.

Keep a record of any positive interactions you have with your parent to remind yourself about the good times during moments when things get less pleasant. You might even want to write a note to your parent to share your good feelings and happy experiences being a part of their life.

Hit the refresh button

Sometimes old patterns and routines can lead to falling into the same negative traps and ruts. If this happens, try changing things up with new scenery and unexpected activities. This might refresh your outlook and help you and your parent see each other in a different, more compatible light, making communication easier and calmer.

Along these same lines, consider introducing your parent to the adult you have become by involving them in your work and professional interests. By helping them see you as an adult instead of a child, it may be easier to break the old parent-child trap and talk with one another rather than at each other.

Stop and count to 10

If conflicts become frequent, sometimes simply stopping and counting to 10 before responding to your parent will afford you precious seconds to calm yourself—and potentially avoid an unnecessary argument. A few moments of deep breathing and hesitation can also give you an opportunity to more fully understand your reactions to stresses in your relationship. This, in turn, will help you transform your fight-or-flight instincts into more positive responses that can ultimately strengthen and deepen your bond with your parent.

Refuse to be baited

If your parent has a tendency to use negative verbal cues that trigger an angry response from you, turn avoiding these “hooks” into a personal contest. See how many times you can refuse to take the bait. Each time you pass up a negative hook becomes an internal private victory. Understand that the best way to win an argument is by peacefully and calmly ending the discussion altogether.

Reward yourself

Becoming anyone’s caregiver is a huge transition, and navigating your changing relationship with your parent adds an additional layer of complexity. Remember to reward yourself for changing any unwanted patterns or outcomes. Refusing to take negative bait, being patient, remaining flexible, and understanding and restructuring your reactions are all tremendous accomplishments that should be viewed as personal victories. Give yourself a special treat for the effort you put into making these changes—a massage, a favorite meal, time alone to read or relax to soothing music, whatever refreshes and renews you. As a caring and compassionate adult child of an aging parent, you deserve it. And you’ll be better prepared to provide sensitive, loving support as a result.

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