Caring for elderly parents


Older mother and daughterFor an increasing number of us, the time of our life when we are most busy with small children coincides with the period when our own parents are beginning to read the Daily Mail show their age.

This may mean they need actual physical care - or it may just mean they become a little eccentric, and spend all their money on scratch cards or hoard old copies of People's Friend. Regardless of your situation, caring for elderly parents can feel like another burden on top of the demands of young families.

As these Mumsnetters explain:

  • "I have noticed that my parents and mother-in-law (and my friends say this, too) are more forthright and harsher about situations that in middle age they would have responded to tactfully and more charitably." 
  • "My mother is set in some of her ways. Her cat is the centre of her world, she hates new technologies and when I tried to tell her about a great recipe I had found it was brushed aside, with 'I can't abide chickpeas'." 

So be prepared for changes in your parents and, if you can, cultivate some additional tolerance and understanding. For example, there may come a time when parents who have enthusiastically helped care for grandchildren cannot manage, or may not choose to travel 200 miles to attend a seven-year-old's birthday party. It isn't lack of love - it's just too tiring.

What can also creep up is the awareness that your parents need help with practical things, such as sorting out finances or housing, or arranging medical and other care. It may even get to the point where they can no longer manage independently.

Elderly parents moving in with you

Moving your elderly parents in with you can be anything from great to abominable. It is a highly emotive topic and potentially opens up a vast cavern of guilt. A decision not to have a parent move in can feel like rank ingratitude and gross selfishness. It ain't necessarily so.

"I love my elderly relatives very dearly, but they would no more want to live with me and be subject to my lifestyle choices than I'd like to live with them."

If you are considering cohabiting with your parent(s) or in-law(s) you need to look closely at matters such as:

  • All the personalities involved
  • The amount of care which might be needed by your relative and whether that can sensibly be provided by you or by other carers
  • Whether your house is, or could be made, suitable for a parent with significant health or mobility issues
  • What other caring and work responsibilities you already have and whether these are compatible with whatever care is needed by your relative

Other support for caring for elderly parents in deteriorating health

If possible, try to do some forward planning while your parents are relatively spry. If they live far from family, perhaps have a discussion about moving nearer to you or other relatives who can provide support when needed.

If having them to live with you is unfeasible, there are various other options: sheltered housing for the more fit; residential care; or care in their own homes.

Get advice from Age UK: they'll be able to tell you what assistance may be available locally. Counsel and Care also has useful advice.

Talk to adult social services. This Mumsnetter says: "I am a social worker for adults/older people and there is a lot of help out there. Everyone is entitled to an assessment - and social services can help with putting a care package in place in order to lighten the load on families. Even if the relative is living with family."

If dementia is an issue, get in touch with the Alzheimer's Society.

Some parents strongly resist your assistance and the changes to their lifestyle you think are appropriate. In this case, you may have to cobble along doing the best you can, as this Mumsnetter explains:

"We found when the doctors and carers became involved they were very sympathetic to the fact that my mother would not accept any help. They said it was a very common problem with the elderly. They don't want to face up to reality and I think their generation is very fearful of being 'put away'."

Your relationship with divorced and remarried parents

The existence of a plethora of step-parents can create gruesome tensions when grandchildren arrive - particularly if everyone is still picking over the decades-old divorce. But ancient history should not be visited on the grandchildren.

Here are Mumsnetters' thoughts on some potential quagmires:

"I made it clear that everyone could choose their 'grandparent' name and sort it out between themselves. People were hurt. But that's the nature of split families. But the children are new and their relationship with the grandparents is new and it isn't fair to burden them with crap from the past. I'd rather make my family feel bigger by having several Grandmas - rather than smaller and just having one or two."
  • Step-grandparent titles

It may offend the 'real' granny if step-granny also wants to be called 'granny' or something akin to 'granny'. We suggest that you talk to everyone and maybe let everyone choose their own name.

There is a big exception to this: your children do not have to bestow any affectionate title on the 15th person your parent meets on the internet this year. You really are entitled to insist on some degree of longevity before grandparental style relations commence.

  • Grandparents and step-grandparents at children's birthdays, christenings etc

If they want to attend they will have to be civil to each other. You may need to speak firmly about this.

  • Your feelings about your parent's new partner

Even if you have your own issues from the past, for the sake of your own relationship with your parents and in the interests of your children you need to be civil to and inclusive of any even vaguely sane and pleasant person a parent of yours chooses to shack up with. But this is not to say you have to act like she is your mother or he is your father.

Widowed or lonely parents

Another potential great steaming pile of guilt is a very lonely and needy parent. Of course you want to provide support, but you don't necessarily want to spend all day, every day at Morrisons with your mum and your new baby. Mumsnetters say:

  • It's OK to need some time for yourself and with your kids. Try making regular dates with your parent so that there is always an occasion for them to look forward to but you don't feel swamped.
  • Talk to any decent sibling you have about sharing the burden.
  • Tactfully investigate other local activities your parent might like to get involved in (courses, volunteering, other activities).
  • Are they up to and would they enjoy babysitting sometimes?
  • There are various organisations that provide help and support for people who are bereaved, eg Cruse, Merry Widow, Way Up.
  • Relax a bit. "She is 73 and a widow... and what can you do? Mothers and daughters always drive each other mad and you will miss her like crazy when she's gone. So take a deep breath, and enjoy her company." 
  • "Our parents are only here for so long, then they're gone forever. Sorry, but I always think, how would I feel standing over Papa's grave knowing I made him feel unwelcome in the home I wouldn't have at all but for him? Like shit." 

If you're faced with agonising dilemmas over elderly relatives, or are just a bit fed up, don't fret alone - Mumsnet Talk is there for you 24/7 (one of the many benefits we enjoy that our parents didn't have at our age). And Gransnet is there for your mum (dad, gran, grandad, aunt, uncle etc).

Last updated: about 1 year ago