Aging Parents and Your Emotional Well-Being
Browse the bookstore. Check the Web. You’ll find extensive information about how to assist your aging parents. What you’re unlikely to find, however, is help for the myriad feelings you will experience as your mom or dad ages. Baby boomers frequently share with me the roller coaster of emotions they experience as a parent’s health declines. They are unprepared for these intense reactions and need help understanding them. Most of all, they need reassurance that their reactions are normal.
How Will You Feel?
- Fear. When you first realize that your mom or dad is becoming less functional, you will likely experience fear. If you have thought of your parent as capable and strong, it is frightening to anticipate a role reversal — one where you are now there to care for them.
- Grief. — As your dad ages he will no longer be quite the robust man you once knew. This change will trigger the same grieving process that accompanies other life transitions. Further, you will probably grieve each major change in your dad’s functioning over time. If you think of grieving as a healing process — one that leaves you intact after a loss — it will be much easier to endure.
Three factors influence the quality and intensity of your emotional reaction as your parent continues to age:
- your typical reaction to change and loss
- your relationship with your mom or dad
- your level of direct involvement in your parent’s life
If you usually react well to change, you are likely to handle the decline of your parent relatively well. If you have a good relationship with your mom, the quality of your feelings will be different than if your shared history has been fraught with indifference, emotional distance or conflict. Your degree of involvement with your father will have a unique impact on your feelings. Here are the specific emotions you are likely to experience as your mom or dad ages:
Sadness. Almost everyone feels a degree of sadness as they watch their previously healthy parent decline.
Anger and frustration. No matter how much you love your mom, it is normal to feel impatient and angry about the changes that aging triggers. If you are personally involved in her care, you may feel particularly frustrated with the way her needs interfere with your life.