Communication pains, when parents become dependents.

More Americans are living well beyond their 70s, and  65% of those reaching retirement age between 2021 and 2030 will be relying on only social security. This means more adult children are now left feeling like they have to their aging parents. As this group ages many adult children will also find themselves in the role of caregivers and social workers.

parent & childAs someone currently living and navigating this role change, I know well the strain it puts on the adult child. Often, we’re in the middle of building a career or becoming parents themselves. Academic research has only just begun on the financial and often physical labor of being an adult care-giver. But one familiar sensation that many experience that is separate from the emotional strain and physical fatigue or being a caregiver is the return of some very common sensations from our teens:

  • Rolling eyes, shaking heads, and pained sighs.
  • Monotone or clipped responses to questions or requests, sometimes accompanied by contained anger or agitation.
  • The sense of dread, anxiety, and sometimes rage when you see their name on caller ID, text messages, email or voice mail.

Often this comes from the dread of hearing another need, or another medical emergency, only to find yourself drawn into a recounting of their favorite TV show (Animal ER, House Hunters, and COPS, I’m looking at you). Or what your sibling is or is not doing and why it is wonderful or horrible this week. And if you share pieces of your day to day life with them, those feelings often rise because they want to help, give advice or come along.

Our parents, elder relatives, and those we may wind up caring for rarely want to be an imposition or to create difficulty. Usually, they just want to feel a part of something, anything. For many, the unconscious desire is to make the time meaningful. Life is meant to be spent living and being engaged with others.

We often feel alone in our roles as caregiver, questioning where the other members of our family are, or lamenting all the inadequate planning.  Many caregivers never take advantage of the professional and peer support that is available. Often the family that isn’t involved has not been approached, and community resources are hidden by a fog of not knowing where to begin to find them.

Whether we have that support or not, it is essential for our own sanity to set boundaries with those we care for, and with ourselves. And it is also important to remember that their bids for more time and attention are not about being a ”problem.” They are about wanting to live in whatever level of active participation they feel is possible, and ultimately not living a life of waiting to die.