Caring for an older loved one can affect the dynamics in the relationship.
“The relationship can start to feel different when one person becomes dependent on the other, or you can start to feel like your parent’s parent,” says Nancy Schlossberg, professor emerita of counseling psychology at the University of Maryland and author of Too Young to Be Old.
Meanwhile, you may feel angry or frustrated that your parent has become ill. Or you may feel guilty because you wish that you didn’t have to be the caregiver.
By contrast, your parent may feel resentful about being so dependent or losing the ability to care for himself or herself but also may feel grateful for your help, she says.
Here are steps you can take to avoid stirring up unpleasant feelings and keep the relationship on an even keel:
1. Ask loved ones how they want to age
“When the conversation is approached in that framework, it works better because it preserves the parent’s dignity,” says Barry J. Jacobs, a clinical psychologist, health care consultant and AARP columnist.
“If you can agree on an overarching goal, it’s easier to figure out how to get there,” he says.
Still, it’s important to create contingency plans if things don’t go well with a particular living situation or care arrangement.
2. Respect your loved one’s wishes
“Let the parent make as many decisions as he or she can,” Schlossberg says.
Whether that means choosing what to have for lunch, deciding what to watch on TV, or picking a museum or a garden for an outing, letting loved ones have a say in the decision-making preserves their dignity and sense of autonomy. This, in turn, will ease the care recipient’s sense of dependency and the caregiver’s decision burden.
Also, “take steps to guard the loved one’s privacy by not hovering too much,” says Eve Markowitz Preston, a psychologist in private practice in New York City who serves mostly older adults and often makes home visits.