When Our Parents Need Care


Holding Hands with Elderly PatientOne of life’s milestones is the role reversal of caring for aging parents.  While for any of us, this has its joys and its challenges, it can be particularly challenging for clergy who are already in a position of caring for the members of their congregations, and often appointed to churches far from family members.  One of the ways to be better prepared for this season is to know what to expect and to have good communication between the generations about what expectations are.  Jane Brody recently tackled this topic on Well, the NY Times wellness blog, looking at the complex web of emotions that can accompany this experience, and the various ways caring for our aging parents can impact everyone involved.  From the article:

Maud Purcell, a psychotherapist and executive director of the Life Solution Center of Darien in Connecticut, offers a laundry list of emotions that adult children are likely to experience when parents age and their health declines. Among them:

* Fear, when you realize that the roles have reversed and that you may now have to care for your parents

* Grief, as a once-robust parent’s ability to function independently declines abruptly or little by little

* Anger, frustration and impatience, when a parent’s needs interfere with your life

* Guilt, in response to the above feelings or because you are unable to spend enough time with your parent because of distance or other life demands

Ms. Purcell suggests that you accept these feelings as normal and not fight them. Rather, recognize that you cannot change what your parents are going through beyond providing help and support to the best of your ability.

She wrote: “Don’t take on more than you can handle. Consider your commitments to your work and to other family members. Overextending yourself will leave you stressed and will put a strain on your other relationships. Worst of all, you may end up taking your frustration out on your parent, causing you intense guilt.”

While caring for aging parents can place a very real strain on the adult children, it can also be a joy.  It can be an honor to be the caregiver for someone who spent their life caring for you.  And for those who chose to invite their parents to live with them, inter-generational households can be a real blessing.

What have your experiences been caring for your parents or being cared for by your children?

Caren Swanson

2 thoughts on “When Our Parents Need Care

  1. I appreciate the empathy you show in this article. That is a good beginning. Could you add something about navigating issues of physical distance? I call my parents every day and that helps, but with them 450 miles away across mountains and not near a very affordable airport, I am frustrated that I cannot see Mom and Dad more often. Mom has some cognitive impairment issues that make phone conversations increasingly trivial in content. How do I offer affection (their primary love language and mine) when I rarely have the funds to fly home or the time to drive home? I try to be a good Methodist and have a quarterly visit, but this just doesn’t seem near enough. I could move back to the conference where my parents live but my daughter is in the middle of her sophomore year in high school.

    • Dear Rev. Clark,
      Thank you for your comment, which I’m sure resonates with many other clergy. Here are a few ideas I can think of that might address the physical distance from your parents:
      -Send written letters or cards on a regular basis
      -Ask your daughter (and other children in the family) if they would be willing to send regular notes
      -If your parents use the computer, could you do a weekly Skype session?
      -In your phone calls, engage your mom by reminiscing about the past
      -Check in with your dad separately, if possible, and see if he has what he needs to support your mom
      -Purchase a wireless picture frame for your parents; you can email new pictures to the frame

      Finally, just know that while your phone conversations may seem trivial to you, they mean the world to your parents.

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