The act of perspective taking is something that is both utterly commonplace and incredibly difficult. We start to be able to take another person’s perspective (that is, to identify their emotions, thoughts, and desires) in toddlerhood, yet by no means do we ever reach a level of proficiency that allows us to be successful all the time. We consistently either fail to correctly identify what another person is thinking or feeling or we completely forget to take their perspective because we are too focused on our own. These mistakes don’t make us bad people at all (after all, we all do this), but they can make sensitive discussions and difficult situations to take part in. Mistakes in perspective taking often lead to hurt feelings and resentments, and can shut down conversations before they’ve gotten off the ground.
When dealing with the topic of elder care, the individuals responsible for care – who are often younger – can end up in hot water because of all-too-common mistakes in perspective taking. When it comes to such an emotive topic, we often find ourselves so focused on what we feel and think about what needs to be done that we can ignore our elder’s thoughts and feelings or mistake theirs for something quite different than what they intend. With that in mind, here are four things that your aging parents want you to consider as you approach the issue of care.
1. “I’m Scared”
We often face the difficult discussion of care with our parents as elders and as such it is incredibly hard to think of them as being afraid. They are our superheroes, the ones who were always there for us and made us feel better when it seemed impossible. The idea that they could be scared – or downright terrified – doesn’t register and as such, is a feeling many younger people overlook when thinking about elder care. And yet, it’s one of the most common feelings for those who are experiencing dementia and change in care first-hand. Just being aware of how scared a loved one may feel can change the way you approach the issue and make all the difference in outcomes.
2. “I Don’t Want to be a Burden”
We live in a culture where we value independence highly, especially when it comes to what we perceive as asking for help from others. This can seem particularly daunting when faced with accepting help from people we have traditionally helped. If you have children of your own, take a moment to think about how it would feel for you to have to rely upon them for your well-being and care. Most of us don’t want to feel that we’re burdening our children at all; we want them to go and live their lives happily without feeling held back. If we thought we were holding them back, we might not do what’s best. As the caregivers in this situation, it’s important we don’t allow our elders to feel that they are a burden, which often happens in two ways. First, small complaints, like problems taking time off work or traffic to get to them, can make them feel they are the cause of your unhappiness. In fact, anything that can be perceived as complaining about what it takes to help them will only reinforce that they are somehow a “burden”. Second, it means making sure you do have a life outside caregiving. Nothing will make things more difficult than avoiding the self-care that should be a part of any caregiving endeavour. Without self-care, we end up angry and resentful at the person we’re supposed to be caring for, which only results in them feeling like a burden.
3. “I Need My Freedom”
Hopefully you’ve lived your life freely for many years. Now imagine that freedom being suddenly taken away, including everyday decisions about our well-being. Awful, eh? Out of our own fear of what might happen, we tend to put strict limits on the freedoms of the people we love, yet this can often make things worse. Our aging parents (and other elder loved ones) need to maintain a degree of freedom or they wither. It can seem terrifying to hand over the reigns to someone who is struggling, but knowing how important it is means you need to find small ways to make sure freedomwithin reason is available. Just like the child who will rebel when given no choices in their life, the adult without choice will either rebel and refuse care or give up on life altogether. Neither of these is an option anyone wants for our loved ones.
4. “I Love You”
Stress, fear, anxiety, change, and loss of independence can bring out the worst in all of us. Take a moment and think of how you react when you are stressed out. Feel a bit of embarrassment over the last time you yelled at your partner over something small because really a work problem was bothering you? The last time your child did something that made you fear for their safety, like touching a hot stove, did you end up angry and upset about their behaviour because of that fear? We all act out when we’re feeling any level of stress or fear, and our parents are no different. Just as we want our loved ones to know we still love them when we act out, our parents need us to know the same, though it may be harder for them to express as these feelings of uncertainty, anxiety, and fear overwhelm them day-to-day. As hard as it can be when they are angry and yelling at or ignoring you during times of change, remember how you would feel and take a moment to remind them how much you love them. Sometimes that’s all it takes to help someone move out of a place of fear and into one of love, and open up to what you’re saying.
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