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Helping our parents to feel that they’re not a burden

We’re bound to feel frustrated with our parents sometimes, but do we want them to feel eternally grateful to us?

You’ve given up yet another Sunday to spend it in A&E with a parent. Your partner’s come too, and between you you’ve been running errands all afternoon – driving off to your parent’s house to pick up medicines, pyjamas and paperwork – as it’s going to be at least an overnighter, nipping out for sandwiches and tea, and providing conversation. You’re trying so hard not to mind more precious family time being lost, and you comfort yourself that at least your parent appreciates what you’re doing.

Then a few days later your confused parent tells you that all that effort was down to your brother. And that’s what they’ve been telling everyone else too. Pah!

Ok, so that’s really irritating, but would we tell our parent that they should be grateful for all the work we’ve put in on their behalf? Or should we just bite the bullet and know that it’s just something that has to be done?

I carried out a poll recently with friends who have ageing parents, and a recurring theme that comes up is the fact that our parents worry about being a burden to us middle-aged kids. I have now updated my list of things that older people worry about, and added this one to the list.

I heard a Chinese proverb, a throwaway comment, part of a talk many years ago. I was young at the time, so the relevance of the comment was a little lost on me, but I still remember it very clearly: “When you are young your father puts his coat on your back. There comes a time when you put your coat on his”. Or put another way, there is a time when reverse parenting happens.

The fact is that as middle-aged offspring, we do have a responsibility to our parents. How we view that responsibility affects how we make ourselves and our parents feel. And how they view that responsibility affects what they will let us do or not do.

Here are five top tips that we have collected from people in our situation to help ageing parents not feel a burden on their children:

  1. We can work to make sure we have a positive attitude about the responsibility that we have for our parents. It is a really good thing to do – look after our parents. A positive attitude rubs off. They will pick it up. And that means not being obviously irritated in their presence. We can always go home and tell someone else.
  2. We should treat our parents with dignity – being patient as their world shrinks. As the things they talk about become more repetitive and predictable or confused, we can be understanding of the challenges of older age. Even those suffering from advanced dementia know when they are being treated with dignity – or not.
  3. Those of us with children can bring them up to understand that it is a good and worthwhile thing to care for grandparents. We can include them in caring time. If we keep our children away, our parents will feel they are stopping us from being a family and that their time with us is an imposition.
  4. We can include parents in family events as far as possible, even when it is not the most natural thing to do. Let’s go out of our way to make sure they are not isolated.
  5. We can always remember they are still our parents. For most of us (who have been parented well) this means they are the one or two people in the world who love us to bits and who would do anything for us if they could. We can let them continue to show that love in the limited ways that they have – even if it means accepting gifts that we don’t need, like the old spare saucepans from the cupboard or a 9,000-calorie cake.

Do your parents struggle with the feeling that they’re a burden to you? How do you help them to avoid feeling that way – especially if you are finding caring for them hard-going? Do you agree with our top five tips? Let us know with a comment below.

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