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As your parents or your spouse's parents get older, they will probably need your help. They will also possibly need professional help with their daily care. The very people whom you depended on in the past will be turning to you for assistance. The fundamental nature of your relationship with your parents will change in a more dramatic way than you have ever experienced. Now you and your spouse will be the caregivers.
Caring for your parents as they get older is often a stressful experience. There are many emotions you might experience along with your new responsibility. When you become the caretaker of your parents, it's very important for you to be aware of your emotions. It can make the difference between having a meaningful, rewarding experience and having one of the worst experiences of your life. The following sections describe the most common emotions people feel when they are faced with their parents becoming older and less independent.
One of the first things you might feel when facing a parent's decline in function is—nothing. It's very common to initially be in denial about a difficult situation. When you are in denial about something, you are trying to convince yourself that it's not really happening. For instance, imagine that your father, who lives alone, is slowing down and becoming weaker. You want to keep thinking of him as strong and healthy, so you tell yourself that he's generally fine. In the short run, that makes you feel better. But, your father probably shouldn't be living alone. And you won't be able to help him find a safer place until you are able to acknowledge his limitations. Denial can prevent you from facing facts and making necessary plans.
Another emotion you might feel is anger at your parents for being unable to take care of themselves. For example, you might feel that it's their fault for not staying healthy, even though you know that they are not getting sick on purpose. You might resent the fact that they are taking so much of your time and energy. You are especially vulnerable to feeling anger if your relationship with your parents was less than perfect. It's more difficult to take care of someone that you feel some resentment toward. But, even if you have a great relationship with your parents, caring for them might feel like a huge burden. It makes sense that you might feel angry because you have been shouldered with a big responsibility.
Don't take your anger at the situation out on your spouse. Instead, discuss your feelings of anger or resentment with him or her. Remember that your spouse can be your strongest source of support during this difficult time.
Even though you are grown up, you might feel like your parents should always be there to take care of you and still help you through difficult times. Seeing your mother or father helpless can make you feel helpless. You might think “If my parents can't take care of me, who will?” You are your parents' child, even as an adult. And when one of your parents is weak, part of you is going to feel like a scared, helpless child. Even though you know that you can take care of yourself, you still might feel that you need your parents to take care of you.