Crystal Hammon is a writer and vintage fashion enthusiast who lives two miles from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Her blog, Dressed Her Days Vintage, is the pink champagne every paid writer needs—a place to say whatever she wants, however she wants. She covers the evolution of fashion, etiquette and culture, and celebrates the upside of life after 50. Follow her @DHDVintage or on Facebook. You can find Crystal wearing her favorite dress, the Penelope.
Most people meet the challenge of raising children by reading tombs of parenting advice. But how many of us give a thought to one of the most complicated care giving roles of all—how to be a great kid to your aging parents? With all the advances in medicine, life expectancies are longer. That increases the likelihood that one day you’ll provide some sort of care for your elderly parents. Do you know how you’ll respond?
My husband and I had no children, so we skipped the doubts and uncertainties that go with parenting. Now that both sets of parents are in their seventh and eighth decades of life, we’re constantly wondering whether we’re doing the right things for our parents.
Dress For All Ages and Stages In Life:
Here are a few tips we’ve gleaned from friends and family who are over 50 and have veteran experience as caregivers for their parents:
- Galvanize relationships with siblings. As adult siblings, you may be accustomed to going in your own ways. The busyness of raising your own family and/or old sibling rivalries can tax these relationships. Forgive old resentments and rebuild those bridges before your parents need you. It may take an entire village to give your parents the attention and care they need and deserve. If everyone fills his or her unique role, life will be so much better. Each child has a unique relationship with each parent. Some adult children can perform certain roles or tasks based on their personalities, skills sets or relationships. Everyone can have a positive influence on your parents’ care. Try your best to work together. If possible, don’t keep score about what each sibling does or doesn’t do for your parents. Trust that everyone is doing his or her best, no matter how that looks to you. Hint: Don’t forget to tap grandchildren. They sometimes have a extraordinary influence with your parents.
- If you live away from your parents geographically, keep in touch with trusted friends and neighbors who see them most. Close friends and neighbors often have a pulse on what’s going on with your parents when you and your siblings don’t. They may even provide support for household chores, grocery shopping and transportation to the doctors. Make sure you build relationships with these people. They can be important allies for responding to your parents needs. Buy gifts cards, share goodie baskets—whatever it takes to let them know how much you appreciate them.
- Form a support network. For the most part, I felt very alone with my questions about how to handle our parents’ care until my church offered a class on the subject. There I found a room full of people who faced similar dilemmas. The more we talked, the more I realized that I was not flying solo. Since then, I’ve made it a point to ask others about their aging parents. I’ve also consulted people who’ve already lost their parents and asked what they would do differently if they could do it over again. “I wouldn’t assume that I had all the answers,” said one family friend. It’s the best piece of advice I’ve received so far. As a retired mental health professional, she regrets that she ushered her father through one set of decisions after another, as though she knew best. Now that he’s gone, she’s not so sure. I try to remember this as I deal with my parents and their choices—whether I agree with them or not.
- Consult organizations for seniors in your area—or theirs. How Medicare and health insurance works is a world of mysteries to those of us who’ve never used it. Most states have councils on aging that offer free advice to help you wade through confusing details about payment for care. They can also provide guidance and resources for helping your senior parents remain vital and independent.
- Never talk down to your parents. I wish I could plop my parents right back on the pedestal where they belong, but that isn’t going to happen. Their progression through life has given me a more complete view of them and all their frailties. Nevertheless, they are still my parents and are due the same respect I’ve always given them. Taking on their battles can be a dangerously subtle form of condescension. When my parents express the misguided notion that their doctors have the ultimate say about their medical decisions, I react like a protective bulldog. “It’s YOUR body! It’s YOUR life! You don’t have to do anything unless you want to!” When I hang up the phone, I’m immediately sorry that I haven’t taken a softer approach. I can’t protect them from all of life’s challenges anymore than they could protect me. Until their situation demands something different, think of yourself as a trusted counselor—not their boss or defense team. Remember that being a senior doesn’t make you stupid.
- Let your help be their idea. Whether they show it or not, your parents probably know they are vulnerable. If you ask them how you can help, and wait patiently for the answer, you may be surprised just how open they are. We all feel better about life when we have some say about it.
- Experiment with pushing them—a little. Most people—not everyone—want to live independently as long as they can. Sometimes, seniors need just a little help to stay in their own home or manage sticky problems. The first time I offered to help my mother resolve a dispute with one of their utility companies, I was nervous as a cat. She had always handled their household business perfectly, but after several calls to remedy a problem, she was so stressed by the conflict that it triggered a series of tremors. To my surprise, she was relieved to have my help. Ditto for my father when my brothers and I gave him a summer of lawn mowing as a birthday present. We thought they might resist our efforts to help, but by pushing gently—and respectfully—we removed two unpleasant tasks that were becoming physically daunting. On the flip side, it’s true that everyone needs a few challenges to stay sharp. You may not know exactly where those boundaries are until you push.
- Phone calls are great, but nothing substitutes for being there. When you don’t live nearby, you can miss visual clues that tell you how your parents are doing. They may sound great on the phone. Some people even go to great lengths to conceal their own limitations. At some point, at least one of your siblings should consider visiting your parents at least once a month for more than an hour. Overnights and weekends are even better for appraising their condition, and of course, for companionship. You’ll see them rise in the morning, take midday naps and how they feel at bedtime.
- Take them somewhere that’s not part of their normal routine. That gives you a chance to see how they navigate in unfamiliar terrain. In the safety of their own surroundings, mobility and cognitive issues may be well concealed. Not so when you get them away from home.
- Be patient and don’t judge. Health problems can radically change personalities. The mild-mannered may become feisty, the feisty may become meek, and the unselfish may become self-centered. You never know how your parents will be. At times, you’ll look at them and wonder if aliens have invaded their bodies—and that doesn’t even begin to take in account the effects of dementia. They may live in stubborn denial of their declining health, or be entrenched in debilitating aches and pains that affect everything from mobility to social skills. Either way, it can be frustrating, but don’t avoid them because it’s difficult.
- Do what you do because of who they are—not because of how they are. That thought will help you love them through their confounding behaviors and attitudes. Encourage, listen and support them. If they do and say things that drive you crazy, bite your tongue. When you feel you’re about to go over the cliff, remember (if you can) all the trials you gave them. That memory is usually enough to humble most people into patience. Besides, we never know what it’s like to walk in another person’s shoes—not even our parents’.
- Ask your parents to give written consent for their physicians to discuss their medical conditions with you and your siblings. All your siblings can have access to your parents’ healthcare information through paperwork completed in each doctor’s office. As your parents’ health declines, you may need to be more involved in their healthcare, especially when there are new diagnoses or treatment plans. If possible, ask to accompany them to significant medical appointments to get more than one set of ears on what doctors say. Encourage your parents to write their questions down before they visit. Doctors are demi-gods to many seniors; without your prodding, your parents may be timid about challenging a physician or asking questions. Insist that the doctor address your parent—not you—in any joint discussion. You’re there to listen, and perhaps to coax your parents into asking follow-up questions. Most doctors will respect your parent as the patient, but you’ll occasionally meet one who addresses you instead. That mild form of condescension should not be tolerated when your parents still have good cognitive skills.
- Accept that you won’t always do it perfectly. Your patience and judgment will ebb and flow with circumstances. Rely on close friends to be your sounding boards. Forgive yourself when you mess up, and most of all, take good care of yourself physically and emotionally so you can take care of the people who raised you!
My parents are everything to me, and I’m blessed to have them. From March through November, I travel four hours to see them each month, and I always take a Karina Dress for church on Sunday. This year, we’re spending the whole month of January together in Florida. Mom is already wondering what to pack, but I already know what’s on my packing list: at least four Karina Dresses—one for every Sunday! They pack beautifully and don’t take much space, which earns them a place on my list of go-to travel dresses. The ¾ length sleeves on Penelope should be just right for winter in Florida. We’re looking forward to getting out of another brutal Midwest winter.
The Penelope Dress is a dress for all ages. If you are as smitten with her as Crystal, you can find her in our online store!
What are your winter travel plans?