Are you planning to start living with aging parents? Whether this is for the sake of practicality, caregiving, a mix of both, or something else entirely, this can be quite a difficult transitional period! Your parents may be struggling with numerous aging issues, which can make interactions with them more challenging.
Harder still, your whole parent-child dynamic is changing! Gone are the days when, as a child, you depended on them for guidance and life’s necessities, and gone are the days when everything they said was a hard and fast rule to follow. This is a considerable shift in what is “normal” from what you and your parents are used to, which can be very stressful to navigate.
So, how can you handle these changes and navigate the shifting structure of your bond with your parents? Here are four positive ways to live with aging parents in harmony.
1. Communicate Well
Communication is central to any harmonious relationship, but positive communication can be tough when you live with aging parents. There may be cognitive impairments that make conversations harder. There could be stubbornness and fear that leads to unproductive discussions. Perhaps there may even be frustrations and old emotional wounds that further cloud the table.
Remember that your parents are more than just parents – they’re human beings with feelings, thoughts, and opinions, and they want those things to be validated. They’re trying to deal with the change of moving in together, just like you; for that reason, positive communication is necessary as personalities collide and spaces change. Here are some tips for healthy communication with your aging parents:
Empathy is the key to living with aging parents in harmony. With a shifting dynamic, the frustration of aging, and additional responsibilities, there will be many things that require your patience, understanding, and compassion. There will be moments when you are frustrated, and that’s when you must bring kindness and empathy to the forefront of your mind. Put yourself in the shoes of your parents and seek to understand their point of view.
· Be Patient and Persistent
When you bring something up, it’s okay if it doesn’t get resolved right away. Many complex topics may require breaking up into more digestible pieces for your parents, particularly if these topics may dredge up fear in them. Don’t expect everything to be fixed the first time you bring it up. Persistently revisit the topic with patience, and your conversations will become productive.
· Ask Them Questions
It’s easy to talk at instead of with your parents as they age, as they may not be engaged in communication when you initiate. Please encourage them to participate by asking questions that give them a chance to think and reflect. Use open-ended questions when broaching complex topics and seek to listen to and understand their answers truly.
· Use “I” Statements
When you need to bring up a sensitive or difficult topic, avoid the brewing of conflict by using “I” statements. These statements focus on your concerns instead of coming off as accusatory, which can avoid arguments. For example, instead of saying, “You’re not eating enough. You should eat more!”, say, “I’m concerned because you haven’t been eating all your meals, and I’m worried that you might not be eating enough.” Your parents are likely the ones used to being in control and having the final say, so presenting feedback or difficult topics in this way allows them to adjust to the shift in dynamic with positive thinking.
2. Draw Lines and Boundaries
Depending on how you were raised, there’s a chance that you didn’t have that many boundaries with your parents while you were growing up. Regardless of how that helped or harmed you back then, the fact is that now, a lack of boundaries is sure to harm your household.
Studies show that clear boundaries are crucial to cohabiting a space with the family. After all, they’re healthy and important for all relationships, and your relationship with your parents is no different. Here are some ways to draw lines and boundaries so you can live with your aging parents in harmony:
· Set Expectations Quickly
From the beginning, you should set some expectations with your parents about how your home will be run with your parents. This is especially true if you are also living with other family members aside from your parents. What areas are private personal spaces? Which areas are shared? Who is in charge of what responsibilities, from a household, financial, and caregiving perspective? Setting expectations is challenging, but it’s crucial for everyone’s sanity!
· Don’t Fall Into Old Patterns
There are a lot of parent-child patterns that may linger from your younger years. Please don’t fall into the trap of repeating them. Your parents don’t need to know every single detail of your life. They don’t get a say in your every waking moment, and they definitely don’t get to veto your personal decisions about your own life. At the same time, you shouldn’t rely on them for opinions, instruction, and validation, and you don’t need to ask them for permission to do things. Everyone here is an adult and deserves to be treated as such, so don’t slip into patterns that infantilize you.
· Keep Living Your Life
You have new responsibilities now that you live with your parents. But you also have your old ones. You should continue to maintain the lifestyle that you always have, including your routines, social relationships, work, diet, and commitments. You had a life before they moved in with you and should continue to have that life, even if some adjustments need to be made. This familiar routine also ensures that you’ll maintain health and positive thinking to make you a better caregiver.
· Don’t Expect Them To Change
While the saying “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is a bit of an exaggeration, it’s worth noting that many parents are stubborn and can be stuck in their ways. If, ultimately, your parents decide that they don’t want to change a habit or behavior that may not be the best for them, if it’s their personal decision, you’ll have to respect it. Apply context and nuance here to make the right decision and practice simple acceptance where necessary.
Don’t try to be a hero when it comes to taking care of and living with aging parents! There’s no shame in needing help when the going gets tough. External support can be your lifeline, especially on particularly rough days. Here are some forms of outside support you can avail of:
· Talk To Friends
Your friends (and relationship partner, if applicable) can provide support and outside opinions, whether you need a shoulder to cry on, an ear to vent to, or some advice from a third party. Sharing your thoughts and feelings with someone from outside of the family can be instrumental in helping you through this transitional phase of your life.
· Bring In Other Family Members
If you have siblings or other individuals linked to your parents somehow, you can bring them in for assistance when necessary. It’s a good idea to set expectations, boundaries, and agreements beforehand, so all family members feel satisfied with the outcome. Just make sure that you and the person you bring in are on the same page and that you can trust them completely with your parents’ care!
· Seek Counseling or Therapy
The changing dynamic involved with living with aging parents can be stressful and emotional. Sometimes, you need some extra help from mental health professionals to process and regulate those new feelings. The help that you get from therapy or counseling can keep you going and prevent resentment from brewing in your home.