By Marianne Delorey
As a child, my parents always came to my aid when I was confronted with belittling educators. That support mattered the most during those times because I was powerless.
I think about those elders who feel powerless due to a health decline and how being a good child to an aging parent is not so different from being a good parent to a young child.
Countless websites, books and experts are happy to provide instructions to parents on how to raise happy children. The list below should help educate people on how to ensure happy elders:
•Be patient. Remember how you couldn’t walk as fast as your parents when you were little? Now, it is your turn to slow down.
•Listen. Your aunt may not be able to tell you exactly what is wrong, but sometimes just letting her talk (even if she repeats herself or it makes no sense to you) might help her feel heard.
•Show respect. When you were little, your dad respected that you did not like sports and he let you join the theater instead. Respect his decisions now, even if they aren’t what you would want.
•Be involved. Your parents made a point of getting to know your friends. Do more than just meet their neighbors, make sure you know how to reach them in an emergency.
•Help them feel safe. When you got hurt, your parents brought you to the doctor. Repay that kindness now and remind them you’re happy to bring them to a medical appointment instead of them having to rely on a taxi.
•Set limits. Your parents were firm about boundaries such as bedtime, and you should be firm about your limits, too. Except for emergencies, if you are only available to see them on Tuesdays and the weekends, do not cave in and shop during your lunch hour for something that can wait.
•Be encouraging. When you were learning to dress yourself, your socks did not always match. Don’t rip things from your parents’ hands and offer to do it for them. Let them try and let them make mistakes. Offer praise. Independence is hard won and easily lost.
•Approach criticism with care. Be a collaborator for solutions. “How can I help you remember to pay the rent” instead of “Can’t you remember anything?”
•Don’t compare. Do you remember how awful you felt when your dad commented that your brother did better in math? Try not to make them feel any worse about their need for you now. “Dad never needed so much help when he was alive” does nothing to make mom feel comfortable about asking for help. Maybe dad needed less help because your mom was around to provide it.
•Spend time together. Nothing says, “I love you” more than quality time. Just going for a drive or even sitting outside on a bench shows you value them. Hold his or her hand, reminisce about the old days and tell him or her when you are coming back. Make all the neighbors jealous of the attention they get from their children.
Nobody’s perfect, and I’m sure your elderly family members made mistakes. But here is your chance to show that despite those mistakes you turned out to be a responsible and caring adult. Besides, you are also modeling this behavior for your children, so make sure they see how you want to be treated.
Marianne Delorey, Ph.D., is the executive director of Colony Retirement Homes. She can be reached at 508-755-0444 or email@example.com and www.colonyretirementhomes.com. Archives of articles from previous issues can be read at www.fiftyplusadvocate.com