Help! Mom and Dad are Struggling

It will come sooner or later – that call from one of your parents that they need help. The call for help  may not be formed in those words, as it is no easier to admit you need help at 80 than at 20, but you will know when that is the call that is being made. How do we respond? What is the best way to answer?

If you are reading this, you are most likely part of the “sandwich generation.” Those of us who are often still raising our families or perhaps have launched most of our kids, suddenly need to start caring for and making big decisions about our parents. It is probably one of the most difficult conversations you will ever have and one of the most difficult decisions you will ever have to make.

It is a blessing for those whose parents have prepared for this time, or who are active and strong until the end, but many of us see our parents decline mentally or physically and need to step in to assist them in determining what path to take.

The issue of concern will also look different in every case. Perhaps the problem is as simple as there is a water leak and I can’t fix it any more or as complicated as dad has gone for a walk and got confused how to get back home. Perhaps one of your parents has passed and the other is stressed over doing the chores that spouse usually did, or perhaps they are just lonely and call you several times a day. Perhaps you notice that there are several questionable withdrawals in the bank account. Who or what organization is getting their attention? The options are endless and unique to the individual’s situation.

Where do you start? The best place to start is with a conversation where you ask questions, giving them the honor and respect of still being the one in control. Questions like:

What do you think are some options to help solve X? (whatever the problem is that initiated the conversation)

I know you are lonely and that is hard. What are some things you could do to alleviate that loneliness?

Let’s start to talk about what the future looks like to you. Have you thought about what options you might be interested in exploring?

These conversations don’t solve the problem but begin taking the steps necessary to know what the options are for both your parent and you.

The next step is to have a conversation with the rest of the immediate family – siblings and their spouses primarily, but if there is an adult grandchild with a unique expertise bring them in on the conversation. Following one parent’s stroke, we received valuable information from a granddaughter who worked in assisted living. She gave many pointers on how to help a stroke victim with various tasks, so we were able to bring mom home instead of going to costly rehab. By adding home health aides and eventually private duty nursing, we were able as a family to help with recuperation in a familiar environment. It was hard, but worth it for all of us. Families all have unique dynamics, but it is important to let each member express themselves. Not everyone can be in charge but by working as a team, the load is easier. At some point you will need to discuss finances, expectations of amount of time and/or money each can deliver, what mom or dad really “wants” and what mom or dad really “needs.” We found Zoom calls were the best way to bring all of us together and we scheduled them with enough notice that all could make it, usually Sunday nights at 8PM. During a crisis we also set up a group text that was used exclusively for updates, instructions, and calls for assistance.

The most important thing is to take it one step at a time. Explore your options. Ask people you know who have experience. There is no right or wrong answer to any of the questions you are asking. Take notes and keep a binder. (More on this in resources) Assign various tasks to each person involved. And don’t forget to pray. God knows your situation and is walking these steps with you. Pray for wisdom, courage for your parent and above all ask for grace. You will need it.

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