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Ohio Department of Aging Boomerang: It all comes back to you!

Boomerang: It all comes back to you!

My Family - November 2012

How to use generational differences to enhance, not strain caregiving
Two simple principles can help you set the ground rules for successful caregiving

By Peter G. Tamburro, Boomerang staff writer

I am a baby boomer. I'm well into the second half of my career and designing my retirement. Some of my 78 million peers nationwide are starting new careers, going back to school and putting their kids through college. We're looking forward to a time of newfound independence, becoming more involved in our communities and taking on new responsibilities and experiences. In contrast, our parents are letting go of responsibilities, downsizing and giving up independence to declining energy, health or savings. They also are trying to understand their lifetime experience and the legacy they leave behind. As a result, they have a need for control over their lives, even as they become more dependent on others.

According to a USA TODAY/ABC News/Gallup Poll, 41 percent of boomers provide some type of financial or personal care help to one or both parents. More than a third (37 percent) of all boomers expect to provide care for an aging parent at some time in the future, and half are concerned about being able to do so. Eight percent of boomers have moved their parents in with them to provide care.

Boomers and their parents are at different stages of their lives, with different needs and priorities. If it sometimes seems that you and your parents aren't speaking the same language when it comes to their care needs, it's because you aren't. At the same time that your opportunities are opening up, they may see theirs as shrinking. They are proud of the lives they've lived, and they worry about becoming dependent on you and others.

When you accept the call to be a caregiver to your parent or parents, you accept two basic roles:

  1. Help them determine the help they need; and
  2. Help them get it.

Keep these two principles in mind and don't try to provide more help than they ask for. As their trust in you builds, they will become more comfortable asking for help. At the same time, this strategy also helps them learn to appreciate your time and effort and respect your own needs.

You think you know your parents, but many boomers who have become caregivers for their parents report that the experience allowed them to learn things about Mom and Dad that they never knew. As your parents age and become less independent, take the time to ask them about their experiences, growing older and the changes they are going through. Ask them about their losses, too - people, pets, jobs, etc. Learning how they deal with loss will help you help them as they lose independence.

Your experiences with your parents now also can help you overcome your own personal hurdles. Ask your parents, "What was life like for you when you were my age?" Like you, they're human and flawed, and did the best they could with what they knew at the time. Times were different for them; Oprah and Dr. Phil weren't there to guide their way, and they couldn't turn to the Internet for a plethora of unsolicited advice. They figured things out for themselves and, very likely, are still quite able to do so now. When you get an idea of how they solved problems, you'll be better able to attack the issues you share today in a way that they understand and that honors their preferences. Keep communication open, honest and clear. When it comes to uncomfortable topics like care and end-of-life planning, you may have to have several discussions to break down communication barriers like fear and pride.

While it may feel like the tables have turned and now you are the parent and they are the child, it's important to remember that your parents are adults and deserve to be treated as such. On the flip side, you are also an adult now, and they need to see and respect that as well.


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