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Almost 25% of American adults care for an aging or elderly person. When caring for an elderly parent, your relationship may feel like it’s experiencing a role reversal. You have gone from the child, or care recipient, to the caregiver. It can be a harsh reality and adjustment for both of you to come to terms with, adding stress to an already difficult situation. 

This experience is new territory for both of you. Ideally, the new roles in the relationship will develop in a way that is healthy and respectful. But for some, the new roles may put a worsening strain on the relationship. The quality of the relationship as it develops will depend on a few factors, such as your communication style together, your existing relationship prior to the need for care, and the physical and mental state of your parent. In this article, we will offer tips to help you to build a healthy caregiving relationship with your elderly parent, show you how to recognize a relationship that isn’t healthy, and give tips to get it back on track.

How to Build a Mutually Respectful Relationship with an Elderly Parent

Building a mutually respectful relationship with your elderly parent can feel like a challenge, especially if your relationship prior to the need for care was already difficult or strained. With that said, there are ways to build a mutually positive relationship with your aging parent moving forward. Here are some tips for establishing trust and respect in your new roles: 

Communicate openly.

One of the most important factors in developing a relationship is the quality and quantity of communication between the two of you. You will have to have some hard conversations over the next few months or years, such as their wishes for advanced directives, financing care, safety (such as the need to quit driving), and more. While the conversations never get easier, you will both get more comfortable with them the more you have them. 

It’s crucial not to let feelings of frustration, guilt, anger, etc. buildup. Instead, work on open, honest, and frequent communication about the good, bad, and ugly of this new role you are both in. To start these conversations, it’s best to be upfront about the subject and how it makes you feel, and be receptive to similar feedback from your parent.

Be willing to say no.

For a lot of people, the parent/child habits are deeply entrenched. You, as the child, may have a hard time telling your parents no, setting boundaries, etc. To build this new relationship on a strong foundation, you need to both be seen and treated as equals. Your parents are not your boss, and you are not the boss over your parents. You are both on a new journey together, and you need to trust and respect that you’re both working in each other’s best interests.

Take care of yourself too.

Too many caregivers abandon their health to help their loved one. 

A common phrase rings true in this situation: you can’t pour from an empty cup. You will have the capacity to provide better care if you yourself remain healthy, mentally strong, and balanced. Don’t forget to take care of yourself too. 

How to tell that your relationship is not healthy

If you feel as though your relationship is going down the wrong path with your parent, trust that instinct and work to correct it. Here are some common signs of an unhealthy relationship with your elderly parent:

You start to feel resentful.

If you find yourself getting angry at your parent or trying to make them feel guilty about all the work you’re doing, this is probably worth looking into. It’s normal to get frustrated from time to time, but if these feelings manifest over and over, consider what secrets or frustrations you’re holding in.

You feel as though you can’t say no to anything they ask.

If you start to feel intense feelings of guilt for taking your own boundaries or wishes into consideration, you may need to work on your mutual trust and bring your relationship back on level ground.

You start to put them down.

As your parent(s) age(s), they will start to lose the ability to do some of the things they used to. If you find yourself being judgemental or critical of their challenges, it is a sign your relationship is unhealthy. It may be time to consider a break with respite care or finding a healthy way to clear your head.

You withhold information or make choices without their consent.

This is a sign that there’s no solid foundation of trust in your relationship. Start having more frequent open and honest conversations about your experiences through care together.

Closing Thoughts

Caring for a parent can be challenging, but it can also be incredibly rewarding. Getting to spend time with a parent you otherwise wouldn’t and building up a new type of relationship can make the experience fulfilling in the long run. Take time to work through the kinks in the transition by communicating openly, finding common ground in the emotional confusion, and working together to get through this challenging period.

If you feel overwhelmed or like you could use a bit of support, CRC is here for you. Eleven nonprofit Caregiver Resource Centers (CRCs) throughout the state of California each year serve hundreds of families and caregivers of adults affected by chronic health conditions. Click here to find your local center.

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