Seeing your parents begin to age can be scary and overwhelming. However, by taking just a few simple steps, you can prepare yourself and your parents for the coming years and relieve your anxiety about the future.
Thinking about aging from your parents’ point of view can help you to identify their needs and best support them. Here are four things you need to know about your aging parents that will help you navigate this season of life together with courage and kindness.
They’re Stressed Too.
Getting older is harder on your parents than it is on you. It’s very likely that everything you may be concerned about – finances, care services, and health issues, for example – your parents have already been considering for years.
Many parents worry about shortchanging their children as they age, either financially or emotionally. They may be concerned about taking too many of your resources and being a distraction during a busy and full phase of your life.
Instead of getting caught up in your own worries, start by considering how your parents may feel. Ask them questions to evaluate their emotional health and what they’d like upcoming seasons of their lives to look like. If you can, find out what is causing them anxiety and do what you can to relieve it.
They May Hide Issues.
Two of the natural consequences of aging are reduced physical and mental ability. Although this sounds scary for grown children, it is much worse for your adult parents. Some aging adults become paranoid about any decline in their mental health and worry about what will happen to them if their kids find out.
Many aging adults just want to carry on as usual for as long as they can. From childhood, people are wired to desire and gain independence. It’s scary for adults to consider that the natural consequences of aging could take that independence away from them in some form.
Ironically, having help with daily life can actually increase long-term independence for aging individuals. Living with your parents or hiring a home care companion can go far to support the physical and emotional health of aging parents.
Because many aspects of growing old are frightening, your parents may pretend nothing is wrong even if they could use some help. You can help your parents through this transition by maintaining an honest and supportive relationship with them. What they choose to tell you is up to them, but understanding where they are emotionally will help you know if there’s something they’re not telling you.
They Aren’t Always Prepared.
Because aging can be uncomfortable to think about, many older adults avoid considering it. Ironically, preparation is one of the very best ways to reduce anxiety about the future. You can help your parents face these issues by having supportive conversations to understand their resources and future goals.
Statistically, about 71% of older adults are financially prepared for retirement. However, fluctuations in the stock market and changes in social security benefits could affect their future financial health. While discussing finances isn’t always comfortable, it is one of the very best things you can do to help your parents face the future without fear.
Many aging adults have increasingly complicated health needs. Take the time now to understand what medications your parents use, what doctors they see, and what needs they might have if these conditions progress. Creating a living will is a wise way to ensure you and your parents are on the same page with future medical decisions.
They’ve Lost Their Role.
Aging in the United States can be disorienting at best and personally devastating at worst. Although life expectancy is extended, American society doesn’t have much of a role for the elderly. Aging individuals are expected to develop hobbies in retirement, spend time with their grandchildren, and play bingo with other older adults.
Over your life, you experience different roles in different seasons. When your parents “aged out” or work, they may have lost a large part of their identity. They may feel depressed about not contributing to society or experience the disrespect American culture gives to those too advanced in age to work.
Much of the American dream glorifies hard work and what it can bring into your life. Without being part of this group of workers, your parents may feel directionless. You can help them transition into this season by listening to them, encouraging new dreams, and filling their lives with community. Slow living can be just as meaningful as life at a fast pace.
Open Communication Early
Growing old is difficult for many reasons. The best way you can help your parents during this season is to openly communicate about how they feel, what they want, and what you’re thinking. While these conversations can be difficult, avoiding them will make your parents’ lives harder down the road.
Start with a posture of listening, and then respond with your concerns and support. This kind of communication will build a closeness and common courage that will sustain you and your parents during the journey ahead.