If you are a family caregiver, then you've probably had a moment or two where you said or did something to your loved one that you later regretted. Whether you were frustrated because your loved one "pushed all of your buttons" or you were having a bad day, your outburst may have caused you to later feel like the "worse daughter or son in the world" or made you think, "How could I have said that?" If any of this sounds familiar, then you should know it is familiar to many other adult children who are caring for a parent, especially those whose parents live with them. Aside from knowing you are not alone, you should also know there are steps you can take to reduce your level of frustration and prevent future outbursts.
Understand Where Your Parent is Coming From
As we age, the reality that we will need assistance to do things we were once able to do on our own becomes more prevalent. Between our body becoming more frail, our vision and hearing becoming impaired or our memory not being what it once was, at some point needing assistance seems inevitable. For most older adults, this need for assistance is synonymous with losing other freedoms like driving, living alone plus many others. And while there are definitely some situations that warrant taking away such liberties, the truth is that it's never easy to accept. Understanding how your parent accepts this change and how it can affect his/her well-being may give you a better sense of the motive behind your parent's actions.
Remind Yourself of What Their Day Looks Like
For the most part, older adults are not as active as they used to be. Whether they are retired, recovering from a medical condition or just staying out of the hot/cold weather, chances are their level of socialization has declined. As a result, it is not uncommon to be bombarded with all of their thoughts, complaints or critiques upon your arrival home and for you to become frustrated as a result. One way you can try to minimize this type of frustration is to encourage your parent to increase his/her social interaction by going to a Senior center, attending family and friend outings or engaging in his/her hobbies. By doing so, it can allow your parent to regain his/her sense of purpose and potentially reduce the amount of friction in your interactions.
Recognize Your Limitations
When you find yourself in a heated discussion with your parent, being aware of what sets you off or gets your "blood boiling" is the first step in being able to reduce your chances of saying something negative. The next step is to walk away, meditate or simply ask your loved one to give you some time alone. Depending on your situation, any one of these techniques can help to give you a few minutes to remind yourself about the previous pointers and to calm down. Overall, the goal should be to mentally or emotionally get to a place where you will not do or say something you will later regret.
Seek Professional Help
While the above tips can work for some, they don't work for all. Factors like personality issues, past family conflict or resentment towards your parent can serve as barriers to remaining calm. Seeking the assistance of a professional like a social worker or mediator can help you get to the bottom of the problem and assist with developing a plan of action to prevent future outbursts.
If any of the above tips have worked for you, I would love to hear your input. Do you have other tips or recommendations you would like to share about "keeping your cool", please share them below.
Christine M. Valentin
As a licensed clinical social worker, I help individuals caring for a loved one reduce feelings of anxiety, depression and stress. This blog is meant to share with you, many of the suggestions I recommend to many family caregivers. Sign up to receive them directly.