Caring for an Aging Parent is an Ever-Changing Dance
The four things to remember as you care for your parents. By Scott Ninneman
Image by lillaby from Pixabay
"Why did you take so much of my money?”
This was my greeting. Her bank statement clutched in her right hand, she glared at me with a mother’s disapproving eyes.
“Hello.” I sighed, but only on the inside. “The money went to pay your bills.”
“My bills shouldn’t be that much.” It was going to be one of those conversations.
I found the detailed list of expenses I’d already given to her and handed it to her. With as much patience as I could muster, I reminded her of the larger purchases she made during the month.
She was calm again. In this part of the dance I knew how to execute all the steps.
Caring for aging parents is like dancing with a stranger. Unpredictable and awkward.
It would be fine if you knew what you would face each day, but in reality, you don’t care for the same person each day. Today’s mechanical genius may struggle to turn on (or off) the stove tomorrow.
As I learn the steps each day, there are four things I like to keep in mind.
Photo by Simon Godfrey on Unsplash
Everyone wants to feel dignified. You want to feel confident and independent. Those desires don’t change as age steals some of your abilities.
More than anything, I want my parents to feel good about themselves. I want them to feel confident in the things they can do, even if it takes me an hour to show them how to do something I could have finished in five minutes.
Growing up in Wisconsin, we often danced The Flying Dutchman at weddings. You and two friends link arms and walk with a hopping skip to the mellow tune. All is calm and wonderful until the music changes. The tempo and volume increase and, if you are the middle person, you get the pleasure of being flung back and forth between your two friends. As a teen, it was a blast. Now, I would probably break something.
Maintaining your parent’s dignity is a lot like The Flying Dutchman. Yesterday may have been a slow stroll with a peaceful soundtrack, while today is a frantic rush where you run from fire to fire — sometimes literally.
You will stumble. The dignity dance doesn’t come with an instructor. There are no marks on the floor telling you where to place your feet. Each day, you assess the tune and act accordingly.
Image by Layers from Pixabay
My biggest struggle with maintaining my parents’ dignity is the constant balancing act between protecting them and letting them be independent. When do you tell them they can no longer drive or cook?
My parents live next door to me, which is a gift because I’m never more than a few steps away. Most days, I take my lunch hour to go check on them. Several times I’ve found the stove eye still on, likely since breakfast. I may find my dad on a ladder, which is a terrible idea at 84, but one I can’t seem to break him from.
The protection dance is one of finesse. You balance on your toes, spin often, and sometimes make gazelle-like leaps. You can try to plan ahead, but you can’t plan for everything.
Some conversations will be excruciating, and you will be the villain often. You have to keep them safe, though. This part of the dance will eventually give you callouses to make it easier.
Image by JL G from Pixabay
Even when my mom was my age, she would tell me the same stories frequently. Now the repeats come after a few minutes.
After a long day of work, being confronted with an urgent problem is frustrating. Hearing a story for the umpteenth time will test your patience. You will count to ten many times, especially if you are attacked for no reason.
The understanding dance can range from a calm waltz to the chaos of the chicken dance. The dance goes on regardless of how tired you might be.
I have a chronic illness, so I know the frustration of having health-related limitations. I keep my frustrations front and center to help me empathize with their frustrations.
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
Love is the melody that ties all the other dances together. Love inspires you to keep showing up and be kind. Some days, your parents dance with you. They’ll tell you they love and appreciate you. They’ll smile and laugh with you.
However, many days, you will dance alone. Part of your love dance is to hold tight to those precious moments.
There will be lots of days you can’t do anything right. Your words and actions will incur sharp verbal jabs and scolding eyes. There may even be times when you’ll be a stranger. Those days, it will take everything you have not to slip into a sobbing puddle on the floor. Still, out of love, you keep dancing. Your parents need your care even when they can’t appreciate it.
Taking care of your parents in a privilege. I whole-heartedly believe that if I were to live a million years, I would never regret the time I am spending now keeping my parents safe, dignified, and loved. One day, much too soon, my dance will end. I choose to keep dancing as long as I can.