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Has Your Elderly Parent Become Your Midlife Crisis?

How to balance your needs with those of an aging parent

(This article appeared previously on MyElderCareConsultant.com.)

Midlife crisis has typically been defined as a period of emotional turmoil in middle age that generally hits around the ages of 40 to 60. This transitional period is characterized by a strong desire for change. There’s some question as to whether midlife inevitably equates to a midlife crisis, but we can all agree that in your midlife you start to question what it’s all about.

Bad News Phone Call

This time of reflection comes at a time when the nest is emptying out, our hormones are changing and we’re struggling to maintain our careers with worries about retiring.

For some, this time does become crisis time and can lead to depression or major life changes.

(MORE: What Do We Owe Our Aging Parents?)

But more and more boomers see midlife as a time for transformation. A time we start exploring the possibilities of our lives and taking time for us. Perhaps it’s our last chance to transform ourselves, have a baby, (my midlife crisis) change careers, go back to school or travel around the world. We start exploring the possibilities.

Enter the Elderly Parent

Just as we start to find time for our own lives comes the realization that we can’t rely on our parents for advice and a shoulder to lean on like we use to. That, in fact, our roles have reversed and they are leaning on us emotionally, financially and physically. Our midlife plans get put on hold.

When we first realize our elderly parent needs help, we are confronted with our own mortality. We look in the mirror and see our wrinkles, gray hair and age spots. We start to reflect back on how well we have lived our life. We see our mother or father struggle day in and day out; we worry about our future. We want to make changes.

(MORE: 8 Things Not to Say to Your Aging Parents)

The constant phone calls, trips to the doctor, worries over whether mom or dad should move, long distance treks across the country for spotchecks. It all starts to wear us down and we hit crisis mode. The next thing you know: our elderly parent’s life has become our midlife crisis.

Some Helpful Tips

With that in mind, here are five tips to help you get through this period:

1. Do what’s right for you and that will be what’s right for your parent. As an adult child, you must care for your elderly parent in your own unique way. You may get looks from others and your love may be questioned. But this is not the time to overcommit to something you’re not capable of doing.

2. Avoid becoming enmeshed with your parent’s problems by setting healthy boundaries. It’s easy to become so busy dealing with your elderly parent’s day-to-day life that it becomes hard to tell where his or her life ends and yours begins. If you can’t learn to set a health boundary, you will hit a brick wall and your parent’s life will indeed become your midlife crisis.

3. Be aware of the sadness you feel around your parent growing old and dying. Along with this, be clear on how you feel about your own mortality and your vision for the rest of your life. These two emotional pieces can collide and become messy in a big way. If these issues are bogging you down, I would recommend counseling or spiritual support.

4. Don’t use your elderly parent as a scapegoat to avoid working on your own life. Are you allowing your caregiving issues keep you from making tough decisions about your own life? Is it easier for you to play the martyr rather than to be responsible for your own happiness? This is an easy trap to fall into, so be keenly aware when you are avoiding your own problems.

5. Don’t do it alone. Whether it’s deciding to get help with your recent arthritis diagnosis or assistance caring for your elderly parent, this transition will require help or it will become a crisis for you and your mother or father. The ability to reach out and get help requires awareness, acceptance and flexibility. Start practicing these attributes on a daily basis.

A Time for You

Chances are your midlife transition will coincide with your elderly parent needing more of your time and help. That can be overwhelming and challenging, but take advantage of the opportunity use the time to get clear on how to envision your late life.

Your time of midlife transition doesn’t have to be put on hold completely as you care for your elderly parents. Be clear about your own intentions and emotional transitions. Don’t let your mother or father become your midlife crisis.

LuAnn Smith is a geriatric care manager and owner of My Elder Care Consultant L.L.C. based in Fort Collins, Colorado. She helps adult children of elderly parents find solutions to their elder care needs and late-life challenges. She also helps midlife individuals plan and consider their own aging process.

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