Assessing Your Parents’ Needs
TO BE of true help to your aging parents, you must learn what their needs and preferences are. Otherwise you may—with good intentions—extend provisions and services that your parents do not need and do not want, though they may be reluctant to tell you that. Then your relationship, based on misunderstandings, would be unnecessarily stressful not only for you but for your parents as well.
What Do They Really Want?
Believing that it will someday become necessary to move her parents in with her, a woman arranges for that move right away. Later she discovers that her parents are quite capable of living in their own home—and would be happier that way!
Having brought his parents in to live with him, a son says: “You are not going to pay money to live in my house! Not after all you’ve done for me!” However, this makes his parents feel overly dependent. Eventually they tell him that they would prefer the dignity of contributing in some way.
A family provides every minor service for their aging parents to ensure that they are comfortable and not burdened with physical exertion. Later they discover that their parents want to do more for themselves.
In each of the above examples, the services performed were both unneeded and unwanted by the parents. This can easily happen if a well-meaning son or daughter is motivated by an exaggerated sense of duty or if there is a lack of understanding as to the parents’ actual needs. Think of the unnecessary stress this produces for all concerned. The solution, of course, is to obtain an assessment of your parents’ actual needs and wants.
Do your parents really need to move into your home at this point? Do they even want to? It may surprise you to learn that some older persons desire to live as independently as possible. For fear of sounding unappreciative, they may hesitate to express to their children that they would prefer to live by themselves in their own home, despite some inconveniences. They may love their children and long to spend time with them. But be dependent on their children? No, they may prefer to do things for themselves.
Perhaps someday it will be necessary to move your parents into your home. However, if that time has not yet arrived, and if they honestly prefer to live by themselves, why refuse them these years of independence? Would some home adjustments or a regularly scheduled phone call or visit enable them to continue living in their own home? They may feel happier in their own home, making their own daily decisions.
One caregiver explained her own haste in taking her mother in: “When my dad died, we took my mother in, feeling sorry for her. As it turned out, she lived for 22 more years. Instead of selling her house, she could have continued living in it. Never be hasty in deciding what steps should be taken. A decision like that, once made, is hard to reverse.”—Compare Matthew 6:34.
‘But,’ you may object, ‘what if something happened to one of my parents while living in their own home? If Mom or Dad fell and got hurt, I’d never forgive myself!’ This is a valid concern, especially if your parents’ strength or health has declined to the point that there is real danger of an accident. If that is not the case, though, ask yourself whether your concern is for your parents or for yourself, that is, to protect yourself from inappropriate guilt.
Consider too the possibility that your parents would be better off in their own home. In the book You and Your Aging Parents, Edith M. Stern and Dr. Mabel Ross state: “Studies have shown that old folks stay younger and more truly alive in their own homes than elsewhere. In short, many misguided attempts to make declining years easy succeed only in making the decline more rapid.” So, help your parents live as independently as possible, while providing the care and services that they actually need. You should also make a periodic reassessment and readjust as your parents’ needs increase or even decrease.
Given your parents’ health and circumstances, it may be that bringing them into your home is the best option after all. If so, be sensitive to the possibility that they prefer to do as much for themselves as possible. Like people of any age, they likely wish to have their own identity, their own schedule of activities, and their own set of friends. This can be healthy. While it will be enjoyable to do some things together as an extended family, it may be good for you to reserve some activities for just your immediate family and to allow your parents their own activities as well. One caregiver wisely pointed out: “Make sure your parents have familiar pieces of furniture and photographs that are special to them.”
In endeavoring to discern your parents’ real needs, talk to them. Listen to their concerns and be sensitive to what they may be trying to tell you. Explain to them what you can and cannot do for them so that they will not be hurt by false expectations. “Have a clear understanding as to what is to be expected from all in the family,” recommended one caregiver. “Have frequent discussions to avoid hard feelings and built-up resentments.” If you make any long-term promises (“I’ll call you every Monday afternoon”; “I’ll take you out every weekend”), you may want to make it clear that you would like to try it for a certain period of time and see how it works. That way, if it proves to be impractical, the door is already open for reassessment.
None of the above should be taken as reasons to deprive one’s parents of the honor and assistance due them. The Creator’s position on the subject is explicit. Adult children owe their parents respect, care, and support. Jesus condemned the self-righteous Pharisees for twisting scriptures to excuse the neglect of parents. The graphic words at Proverbs 30:17 reveal the disgust that God feels toward those who disrespect their parents: “The eye that holds a father in derision and that despises obedience to a mother—the ravens of the torrent valley will pick it out and the sons of the eagle will eat it up.”—See Mark 7:9-13; 1 Timothy 5:4, 8.
As you give needed assistance to your parents, you may also face new pressures. How can you cope with these? The next article will offer some suggestions.
[Pictures on page 5]
A parent may enjoy independent activities with friends as well as with family