Navigating Parental Caregiving | Counseling | Therapy

Navigating Parental Caregiving

Janette Dill , MFT — Associate therapist

Navigating Parental Caregiving image

Deciding to take care of an aging parent for some is the ultimate act of love. It is a thankless way to show gratitude to your parent(s) for bringing you into this world and raising you. For others it may be a decision perhaps you and your parents may have discussed at some part throughout their life prior to needing assistance, or perhaps there was an unexpected trauma. No matter how the story unfolded for you, you are here, stepping into a caregiving role. For some, once you make that leap into a caregiver role there may or may not be an opportunity to return to a state of just being a child to your parent(s). A caregiver role is not a decision to take lightly as taking on this role will impact the life you know as normal.

A caregiver is a person that assists with the care and well being of someone who needs assistance with daily tasks and certain activities. Taking care of your parent(s) can start to take a toll on one's physical and emotional health. It may be prudent to reflect on understanding how much care is needed, how much of that care you can actually provide and manage, utilizing resources, and remembering to schedule some self care just to name a few pointers to be evaluated while navigating parental caregiving.

Understanding how much care is actually needed.

It may feel overwhelming with what to do at first as you may not be sure just what kind of help is needed from you. It's important to assess just how much caregiving is needed within this new added role. Depending on your parents physical capabilities and cognitive functioning skills they may be reluctant to ask or share what they may need. Losing one’s independence may be something they have not fully accepted themselves as there may be some denial, embarrassment, or even guilt present within them. Parents rarely relish the idea of waiting for their children to take care of them. When understanding how much care is needed, consider if your parents are just aging and need more frequent visits to help with meal prepping, doing household upkeep, managing finances, driving them to and from, and so forth. You may find out some of the answers by simply asking your parents for their input, or observing them while they perform tasks on a casual Saturday afternoon for lunch. Another simple inexpensive way to get information about your aging parent is to perhaps get live streaming digital cameras that wouldn’t take up much space to observe them in their living environment. The footage should be available from wherever the observer watches the videos. An added benefit of having cameras is it would allow you to call for help from remote locations, as perhaps you do not live nearby or maybe you are at work and need a quicker response from a neighbor, friend, or emergency services if something were to happen within the home.

If there has been a medical trauma that may mean gathering information from other people that are involved such as doctors, therapists, nurses, spouses, and so forth that may provide medical insight. For example, is the care needed more for an acute or short term recovery that may last a few days to a few months. On the other hand, is this more of a chronic-long term care perspective, ranging from weeks to an undetermined time. Knowing the difference between types of care may influence your role as a caregiver. Take some time to reflect on what your parent(s) need to function on a daily basis given the information provided. You and your family may have to figure out if your parents' needs will be best met in their home, your home, a long term care facility, or short term rehab giving the disclosed medical conditions. As a primary caregiver you and the family may strategize on how to utilize familial support, coming up with safety planning, addressing nutrition issues, assigning who will be responsible for transporting to and from appointments, picking up prescriptions, and managing socializing as your parents may have friends or hobbies that still have meaning and purpose for them.

After understanding how much help is required, what happens if you decide you don’t want to take on this amount of responsibility? That may produce feelings of shame and guilt, even betrayal in some way. Your emotions are valid. There is such a thing as this role being too much. And that is okay! If you had a healthy upbringing, declining such a role can produce a flooding of thoughts and feelings. Imagine the emotions if the dynamic between the child and parent was unhealthy. When you consider your upbringing or lack thereof and now your caregiver needing your guidance and help can erupt a myriad of conflicting emotions, rationalization, justification, even familial obligations which could be something you explore with your therapist. It is normal to feel uncertain, overwhelmed, nervous, worried about all that is to come even though you have decided to not take on a caregiving role. But if you understand the level and complexity of how much care is needed, now how much of that care can you actually provide.

How much care can you provide?

While in theory one may assume they can do it all. You probably had a life before having the responsibility of being a caregiver. One may ponder what their current work-life balance looks like. Here are some questions to ask yourself. How many hours does your secular job require you to be out of the home? What compromises are you willing to make if any? What are your emotional needs/limits telling you as there may be feelings of guilt for wanting to do more. What if you did not have a healthy relationship dynamic between you and your loved one? How can you hold space to be compassionate and attentive while balancing childhood trauma? Perhaps this specific area is worth assessing in therapy for yourself. The caregiver will have to figure out what compromises they may need to consider in order to be available for their loved one. As life starts to go on you may realize you need help with your role.

Get Help with Caregiving

While you may have made an executive decision to be a caregiver to your aging parent, utilize all the resources that may be available to you including partners, family members, neighbors, friends, and colleagues who may offer assistance to you. This would be a good time to pull from the bank that you have graciously been depositing in with your families and friends, hence the idea of relationships being built on give and take. When you let others show up for you by meeting your needs it can provide fulfillment for their role in your relationship. When you don’t ask for help you take that act of service away from your biggest supporters. To some it feels good to feel needed.

If financially able, getting help with caregiving may mean hiring some professional help, even looking into insurance paid coverage of medical personnel assistance which may be ordered by your parents medical team for a set amount of hours or days per your parents conditions and insurance plan. Your parents will need to eat and have clothes laundered, prescriptions picked up, etc. Perhaps you don't need personnel, but may utilize outsourcing tasks via hired help or apps which allow focus on more complex oriented activities. Getting or utilizing help is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of strength when someone can acknowledge they need help from others by understanding their own limitations. It is what vulnerability looks like. Getting help may provide opportunities to maximize making meaningful memories. For example, if the nurse assists with hygiene and dressing while you also get ready in the morning, both of you can just enjoy having morning breakfast together.

Take Care of yourself

Caregiving no matter who the individual is requires energy and resources from your mental, emotional, financial thresholds. It is hard to pour from an empty tank. Therefore taking time to refuel yourself is necessary. When your tank is full, it allows the excess to be given to those interpersonal relationships, including your loved ones. Often at night many people plug their devices up to a charger to maximize its use for the next day. Or you refill your car with gas when it hits the E symbol on the dashboard. Self care should be as routine as that. Self care does not mean elaborate or materialistic things all the time either, unless that is what regenerates you. Self care may look different now as a caregiver than it did when you didn't have this role. For example maybe you were a night owl and liked to stay up late to the wee hours of the morning. Self care now may include implementing a good bedtime routine, so that you are rested from all you have accomplished today and want to prepare your body and mind for the next day. Remember you are human! There will be days that go without a glitch and days where issue after issue bombards you. Stop, take a breath, remember what is in your control, utilize your resources, take care of yourself so that tomorrow you can do it over again. If you feel like you need help unpacking navigating parental caregiving, reach out to any therapist here at The Center For Growth via website at or calling 215-922-LOVE.

At TCFG you can schedule directly online with a shame therapist. If you prefer talking to a shame therapist first, you may call (215) 922-LOVE (5683) ext 100 to be connected with our intake department. Lastly, you can call our Director, “Alex” Caroline Robboy, CAS, MSW, LCSW at (267) 324–9564 to discuss your particular situation. For your convenience, we have six physical therapy offices and can also provide counseling and therapy virtually.

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