Give Yourself Permission to Let Your Elderly Parents Make a Mistake

It’s that time of year. We cherish holiday traditions and spending time with family. But, at the same time, many people experience a lot of stress. And, this includes the stress of seeing elderly parents not doing so well. It may also be the time when you try to talk to them about this and find they don’t receive your message so well.

Our team of care managers will share some stress-reducing tips for family harmony at the holidays. One of the most difficult, but necessary, steps is to give yourself permission (or forgiveness) to let your elderly parents make mistakes. We’ll offer ways to be prepared and how to discuss concerns. But, most importantly, we’ll share why (and how) it may be necessary to let go of what you can’t control. You might just be surprised by the positive results.

Stress-Reducing Tips for Dealing with Concerns about Your Elderly Parents

1.  Do NOT have “the talk” during holiday visits.

You’ll likely be spending time with your aging parents, so it seems like a natural time to bring up your worries. Siblings coming together often wish to discuss future plans. However, we highly recommend against having big confrontations during this emotionally-charged time. Here’s why and what we recommend instead.

Grab a copy of our checklist of what to observe and do on visits to your elderly loved ones.

2. Start early and take advantage of natural conversation opportunities.

We call it “the talk” but it should really be a series of discussions over time. No one really wants to face getting older or needing help. We don’t always think about how these conversations feel from our elderly parents’ perspective. This is important to consider when framing these conversations and how we approach caregiving. If you’ve tried and had a lot of difficulties, a professional care manager can help guide the conversations, as well as giving you an expert assessment and advice.

3. Develop ways to manage stress and let go of worries about what you can’t control.

Start by being prepared as much as possible. This way you know you’ve done what you can. We have some great tips in our article “The Dreaded 3 A.M. Phone Call” to reduce your worries about dealing with the crises that often happen with elderly parents.

Click Here to get our comprehensive caregiver checklist, a simple guide about what to prepare and how.

Consult with an expert about your concerns

We can help talk through options, conduct an assessment with recommendations and/or bring in someone to keep an eye on things. Get the peace of mind that comes with doing what you can and knowing you've done enough.

Once you’ve done what you can, it should be easier to let go of the worries. But, it isn’t always so simple. This is where we as caregivers need to give ourselves permission to let our parents make mistakes. Our parents are adults and we are NOT their parents. Even if you force your parents into taking every precaution you think they should, things may go wrong. So, as adult children of aging parents, one of our main tasks if learning to let go. But, it’s not so easy to do. Sometimes a caregiver support group (or online community) can help. Or, you may want to talk to a professional care manager or counselor. They can help you develop techniques for managing anxiety, as well as setting boundaries.

4. Set boundaries that you won’t clean up for all the mistakes.

It’s one thing to give yourself permission to let your parents make mistakes. But, we all know who usually ends up dealing with the consequences of these mistakes. So, it’s important not just to allow your parents to make mistakes but to set boundaries.

This needs to be something that’s “negotiated” in your family meetings. For example, Mom says she’s fine and doesn’t need help at home. You can respect her decision, but what happens when she has a fall and you get that 3 AM call? Your discussions should include possible scenarios and “what will happen when”. You might wish your parents would do 10 things that you think will make them safer. They might think they’re all unnecessary. However, perhaps you compromise, with them agreeing to make a couple of the changes. And, you make an agreement that if X happens, then they will proceed with Y. For example, if they fall or the doctor has concerns on their next visit, they’ll get home care so many hours/day. You can have such resources ready to be “activated” so you’re not in a panic if something happens.

How to Deal with Siblings Who Disagree

If you’re an only child, you may feel the stress of dealing with all this alone. But, if you aren’t, you have the stressful situation of multiple opinions and personalities. Clearly delineate roles early on. This goes hand-in-hand with setting boundaries. Families often fall into old patterns or make assumptions. If you’re the sibling who lives nearby you may resent siblings who question what you’re doing when it feels you have all the work. They might be feeling insecure because they aren’t there, or lack an understanding of the situation. There’s nothing more destructive than assumptions that grow into resentments.

In planning, don’t create difficulties in a misguided attempt at “fairness”. For example, some parents don’t want to pick one child for decision-making so they appoint co-POAs. Such “decision making by committee” comes with a number of practical concerns. Similarly, parents may divide duties, making one child financial POA and appoint the other as healthcare surrogate. None of these choices is necessarily wrong, but your attorney can explain pros and cons. Make sure everyone understands the implications. These decisions shouldn't be secretive, either. Keep things open and honest so family members aren't surprised in a crisis. Make sure your professional advisors know your family history and any concerns so they can help you plan properly.

Read more about Sibling Rivalry in Eldercare.