By: Gregory K. Popcak
It is not unusual for the years of middle adulthood to become the “sandwich years.” This is the time when many couples have children under 21 at home and are also charged with the care of elderly parents. According to one 2004 study reported in Perspective on Labor and Income, 70% of those couples comprising this group reported significantly greater stress than other couples not responsible for simultaneously caring for dependent children and their parents. The good news is that although this sacrifice can require changes in work and social schedules, it doesn’t have to spell disaster for the marital relationship. Here are some simple tips to keep your marriage strong through these times.
Make Marriage #1
The most important commitment in your life is the commitment you made to your spouse at the altar. Christians are obliged to honor our parents, of course, and caring for them in their later years is an important way to do this, yet our marital relationship is unique because God has raised it to the level of a covenant. Other things may be important, but nothing can be as important as maintaining those rituals and routines that help a couple stay close to one another. Make sure to take time to pray together daily. Schedule time to talk and share your struggles and successes each day. If it isn’t scheduled, it won’t happen. And do try to get regular date time. If you are not able to leave the house for extended periods of time for your dates, then at least schedule date time at home. Find simple ways to make this time special; candlelight, a special meal in your bedroom, even just taking quiet time to listen to a favorite CD and just talk. Couples who are intentional about making this time happen will grow closer through these challenging years while couples who try to catch time on the fly will grow apart. Decide to be in the group that grows closer.
Make Mom or Dad Part of the Family
There is a tendency to treat an elderly parent as a guest. In a short amount of time, however, this will result in you burning out and your parent resenting the feeling of creeping uselessness that overcomes them as they spend yet another day staring at the tube. Make your elderly parent part of the family by asking them to do whatever chores they can. Even a bed-ridden parent can help fold laundry! Some say this sounds cruel, however, they are seriously underestimating our human desire to help and be needed by others. Giving a parent who lives with you the opportunity to serve the household to the best of their ability, as well as participate in the joys of family life to the same degree, is an important way to help your aging parent overcome the fear that they have become a burden to you and your children. Don’t treat live-in parents like guests. Make them part of the rituals and routines that keep your household humming.
Have Realistic Caregiving Expectations
Caring for elderly parents is an emotionally-charged experience. You will want to do everything you can to make their later years comfortable and filled with love, but remember one thing, you are not a skilled nursing care provider. There will be tasks that you simply cannot do, and there may come a time when your parents require a level of care that is simply beyond your ability to provide. This does not mean that you have failed. It simply means that you are not a medical professional who can also bi-locate (be in two places at once) and clone yourself.
Even if your parents do not qualify for home-health nursing or aides, contact your local home health care provider and pay for a consult with a medical social worker. The small fee you may have to pay will be more than made up for with the list of resources like contacts for elder day care, respite care services, and other community support resources. Access to such programs can spell the difference between a caring home and a crazy home, and the time to start looking for them is not when you are already burned to an emotional crisp. Consider options early for smooth future transitions.
Know When to Get Counseling Support
Sometimes, adult children who did not have the best relationship with their parents in the past go into overdrive to try and force the relationship they never had with a parent who is in his or her twilight years. This can cause an adult child to neglect self-care, and care of the marriage and even dependent children while that adult child jumps through hoop after hoop to try to make mom or dad cough up the love that has been lacking in the past. Trust me, this will not end well. If you have a history with your elderly parent, get counseling early on to learn how to balance loving, generous service with healthy emotional boundaries. You’ll be glad you did.
If you, your spouse, or your family find yourselves struggling with the challenges described in this article, contact your PaxCare Tele-Coach today and get the support you are looking for. Call us to get the skills you need to succeed!