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10 Tips for Navigating the Challenges of Parental Caregiving

Providing care for aging parents is a relatable experience for many Americans. In fact, recent estimates suggest that nearly half of caregivers (42%) take care of a parent as opposed to another relative or loved one. Becoming a parental or family caregiver can be challenging for anyone. 

Still, it may be particularly difficult for those who have experienced abuse, trauma, or neglect at the hands of a parent. Feeling comfortable setting boundaries, seeking support, and caring for yourself can help you navigate your new role more confidently and safely.

Key Takeaways

  • Any family caregiver can benefit from having patience, clear boundaries, and a strong support system under their belt. 
  • Being open to change, promoting healthy behaviors, and understanding when it’s time to put your needs first are also important characteristics to have when caring for elderly parents.
  • Taking care of yourself helps you limit caregiver stress and strain and allows you to be a better care provider. When you’ve reached your limits, know it’s okay to ask for help. Advocating for yourself doesn’t make you weak, selfish, or wrong.

10 Tips for Family Members Navigating Parental Caregiving

Despite the prevalence of family caregivers, there is no “rule book” on supporting yourself and someone else. Many caregivers find themselves in their role with little to no guidance but plenty of responsibilities. 

Below, we break down some essential things to remember to balance caregiving duties with personal care.*

*If you or a loved one are currently experiencing any form of abuse or violence in the home, know that the National Domestic Violence Hotline is always available to help. Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or text “START” to 88788 for free, confidential, and 24/7 live support.

1. Approach Situations With Patience and Compassion

Patience is arguably one of the most important qualities a caregiver should have, especially those who care for one or more parents. 

It can be strange to step into the role of a caregiver instead of a dependent. Consciously reminding yourself to be as calm, understanding, and patient as you can — just as your parents ideally would have been for you — is key.

But patience in this context can mean far more than picking your battles, being willing to compromise, and taking things slow. 

It can also mean responding to potentially hurtful or alarming behaviors. For instance, dementia patients may behave in verbally or physically aggressive manners as their condition progresses. 

Reacting to situations like these with anger or frustration may only escalate things, creating risks for you and your loved one.

2. Communicate

Communicate openly and honestly with your care recipient about your needs, expectations, and feelings whenever possible. Give them a say, too, so that everyone feels seen and heard.

What communication looks like to you can vary, and that’s okay. Adapting your communication style to your loved one’s needs can be crucial. What do they need you to do, and what do you need them to do so that you can offer effective care?

Another important piece of the puzzle is communicating regularly with other members of your parent’s care team. 

This might mean checking in with healthcare providers, other home care workers, family members, etc.

3. Set Boundaries

Don’t be afraid to set and maintain boundaries that protect your mental, emotional, and physical health. 

Establish what’s okay, what isn’t, and what will happen if your boundaries are crossed. Maybe you can only offer support on certain days of the week, or maybe there are activities you’re simply not comfortable doing. 

Having boundaries doesn’t mean you don’t care about your parent or want to give them the best quality of life you can. Hiring additional help or home care services to fill the gaps is always an option.

No matter what anyone else says, know that it’s okay to walk away sometimes. You don’t have to put your caregiving responsibilities over your well-being. 

4. Seek Support

Remember that, as one of millions of family caregivers, you are not alone. Finding support from your peers and community may make the challenges of caregiving seem much more approachable. 

Check out resources like the Family Caregiver Alliance, or consider joining a local support group for caregivers who support elderly parents to connect with others who share your experiences.

5. Respect and Encourage Independence

The goal of in-home caregiving is usually to allow recipients to stay at home while their needs are met. And living at home comes with some level of independence. 

When care recipients want to express that independence, let them. Encourage them to find new ways to practice and maintain independence, too.

In many cases, this goes hand in hand with boundary setting. Maybe your relative can dress themselves, and you prefer that they do so for personal reasons. Make this an expectation, and do what you can to help make it easier. 

For example, maybe you lay the clothing out for them so they don’t have to climb or dig through their closet.

6. Adapt to Changes

Understand that some health conditions can impact how a person eats, lives, sleeps, etc., and be open to these changes. Even without any health conditions at play, it’s normal for older adults to change their habits and routines over time.

Say, for example, that your loved one isn’t interested in eating anything but their favorite soup for lunch. 

Instead of resisting this change, you could decide to embrace it by adding nutritious vegetables and plenty of protein to their usual recipe so that it fits into a healthy diet.

7. Promote Healthy Habits

Lead by example to showcase the value of self-care and healthy routines. Encourage your loved one to eat healthy, keep moving, and stimulate their mind by doing so yourself. 

Make challenging activities or requests into rewarding experiences. If possible, consider doing some of these things—like taking a daily walk or eating three nutritious meals each day—together. 

Build these goals into your parents’ routine wherever you can.

8. Take Care of Yourself

Self-care can not only help you avoid caregiver burnout, but it can also help you provide genuinely better support to your loved one. 

In one survey hosted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over half (53%) of caregivers agreed that a decline in their health compromised their ability to provide care.

Take a day off every now and then, and don’t be afraid to enforce boundaries around when and how you give care. It’s not selfish to put yourself first. 

It’s part of the job; you can’t pour from an empty cup. 

9. Keep Learning

Stay current on what’s happening in the world of elder care so that you don’t miss out on opportunities to make your life (or your care recipient’s life) easier. 

Connect with important caregiver resources, consult senior care providers, and discuss your experience with your peers. 

Do what you can to expand your knowledge base to include new technology, information, and changes you can make to better support your loved one.

10. Plan for the Future

In-home care might not be the best option forever, especially if you’re not in a prime position to become a full-time caregiver. Don’t be afraid to consider the future. 

Where will your loved one live if you can’t or don’t want to be the primary caregiver anymore? Are there assisted living centers, nursing homes, or other long-term care facilities near you that fit their needs? 

If not, what will you do when it’s time to reassess your parent’s living situation?

If possible and appropriate, involve your parent(s) in this discussion. It’s okay if you’re not able to get into specifics just yet — simply having a foundation can make navigating these conversations in the future much less stressful for everyone.

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