Agewise Counseling
Diane M Wilson, MFT
Trading Places: How to Cope with Aging Parents
For many of us, we can no longer take our parents’ good health for granted. Years ago we left home, and we were happy to start our life as an adult (or so we thought we were when we left for college..) away from the rules and structures our parents set up for us when we were young. We got into relationships, and maybe now have found our partner and built our own families. We even appreciate our parents more as we struggle to raise our own children, and have mixed emotions when our kids are ready to launch and leave us to start their own adult lives.

My specialty is working with adult children of aging parents, many of whom are still part of the “sandwich generation” who have children at home and also parents who are getting older and frailer and may need some assistance. It’s hard to watch our parents grow old. Regardless of our earlier relationship with them, they are still our primary attachment figures, and most of us feel the need to keep them safe and in a secure environment as the difficulties of aging arise for them.

What are some of the difficulties of watching our parents grow old?

  • Reversal of roles- When we were young, our parents’ job was to take care of us. Now, as they become frailer and are not always able to handle their activities of daily living, we may feel the need to take care of them. Of course, they may not want our help, and we have to balance their right to self-determination with their need to be safe and well cared for.
  • Loss of Support- As children, we depended on our parents for emotional and financial support. If we were lucky, we continued to receive emotional support from our parents as we grew into adults. Now that our parents are growing frailer, they may need our support as much as we once needed theirs. And most parents do not discuss their finances with their adult children, so we do not know what they are able to afford to assist them either in their own home or if they need to move into a residential care facility.
  • Mortality Issues- Seeing our parents grow old reminds us of our own mortality. Watching our once vital parents now using a walker or not able to drive or pay their own bills is hard; we realize we cannot take our own health for granted, and we too will one day grow old and frail.
  • Sibling rivalry- When our parents need our assistance, we should not have to do it alone. It is natural for us to want our siblings to share equitably in the care of our aging parents. But having family meetings, in person, over the phone, or even by email, usually brings up old rivalries and issues we thought we had long ago buried.
  • Old hurts- Not only do we have issues with our siblings, but frequently we have not quite forgiven one or both of our parents for their behaviors and/or attitudes that caused us pain and hurt for many years. Just when we thought we had healed, we need to help our parents in ways we could not have imagined years ago. Emotionally, we are vulnerable to our old feelings, aside from our present feelings regarding their current situation.
  • Confusion is rampant- Aging people experiencing illness or disability rarely stay in the same condition for a long time. They may make progress in one area, only to experience a setback in another area (such as their broken leg may heal, and then they may experience memory problems which may be normal age-related cognitive memory loss, or could it be the beginning of dementia-related illness?).  Adult children have their “hands full” trying to figure out what is going on.
Most of us are very busy. This is where I can help. Please contact me for a consultation or family meeting , so that together we can face the challenges of helping our aging parents.

Call (or email) Diane to set up a consultation: 415 440-1243


Diane Wilson, MFT                                                          415 440-1243
1526 Franklin Street                                                         Email Me
San Francisco, CA  94109