Watching your parents get old and frail isn’t easy. Here’s how you can come to terms with it
By NCVC Staff | Published on Sep 22, 2023
If there’s one observation to be made about parents, it is that they do it all! From managing household chores to helping us out while also maintaining their professional lives—they work hard their entire lives. We see them running from one place to another without much thought and slipping from one role to another easily.
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No wonder then when we see old age catch up with our multitasking parents and stop them from doing everything that they were once easily doing, we get worried. We’re aware of how the life cycle works but it still hurts to know that our parents might not be around one day. The child in us feels the anxiety, but the adult needs to understand how to deal with it because they’ve been our support system all our lives and now it is our turn to make sure we’re there for them.
To deal with this conundrum, we talked to renowned clinical psychologist, Dr. Bhavna Barmi. And she is helping us understand what causes this anxiety and how to deal with it.
“Watching our parents grow older is an inescapably challenging and heart-wrenching part of life. How could we not feel the sharp pain of anticipatory sorrow when considering the fact that our parents are getting older and will not be around one day? How could we not search for ways to hide from, deny, avoid, or soften the pain?,” she explains.
Dr Barmi adds:
Here, Dr Barmi suggests a few ways to cope with the fact that our parents are ageing and calm our anxiety so that we can be there for them:
1. Accept how the life cycle works Where there is life, there is also the end of it. It might be a painful truth but it is definitely something we need to acknowledge. Dr. Barmi says, “Summon the courage and strength to embrace the cycle of life. We get to live and we get to die. Losing a parent is part of the cycle of life.”
2. Be a good caregiver Our parents have looked after us all our lives. From the sleepless nights they spent when we were infants to being the emotional support when we experienced disappointment in our lives—they’ve ensured our physical and emotional health stays on track. It is our turn, now, to be excellent caregivers to them.
Dr. Barmi suggests becoming competent caregivers. She says, “Hold, nurture, reassure, protect, and love your parents with dignity and respect when they can no longer take care of themselves. They may have wiped your butts a thousand times as kids, so now it’s time to wipe theirs.”
3. Venting is important The anxiety of seeing your parents age coupled with the helplessness of not being able to do anything about it may cause a deterioration in your mental health. And so you need to vent once in a while and let it all out to clear your system. Our expert says that venting when necessary is one way of dealing with this anxiety. According to her, “Whether it is punching the pillow or screaming into it, it’s a cathartic experience which can help you maintain your calm in stressful situations.”
4. Celebrate them while they’re with you You might be feeling anxious about the fact that your parents might not be there one day, but you need to concentrate on the ‘now’. Dr. Barmi reminds us that we need to honour and celebrate their lives while they’re here. “Give the full measure of your love, compassion, forgiveness, and affection to them, expecting nothing in turn”, she explains.
5. It’s time to get to know them better When we’re young, we view our parents as all-knowing beings who are our authority figures. We often don’t realize that they’re also human with their own sets of aspirations, hobbies, and life experiences. Now is the time to get to know them at a more human level. Dr. Barmi suggests: “Get to know them even better. Tune in to what’s going on in their world. Don’t project your own feelings, interpretations, or assumptions onto them. Ask open-ended questions, and then listen.”
6. Just be there for them Our parents might never say that they require our help but it is important that you’re there for them when they need you. “Be there for them when they need you. Wait for them to ask you for advice before giving it. If they have trouble asking for help, give them a few multiple-choice options to select from,” concludes Dr Barmi.
They’ve been strong for you all your lives. Now, you need to be strong for them.