For my part as a caregiver, it is easy to become frustrated, bitter, and exhausted. Yet God calls me to “keep loving one another earnestly” (1 Peter 4:8 ESV). To do this well, I have to be intentional about the ways I show love to my parents as they grow older.
1. Create time to be mentally and physically present.
Proverbs 23:25 says, “Let your father and mother be glad, and let her who bore you rejoice” (ESV).
In most circumstances, mothers and fathers want to spend time with their adult children and grandchildren. Watching the children they were blessed with live as independent adults gives joy to the parents. They see time with you as a gift, and it is more than just your physical presence.
In our busy lives, it is easy to be physically present, yet mentally far away. There are always things on our to-do lists which hold half of our attention. Even though my mother-in-love lives with us, I have to intentionally set aside my lists to focus on her.
How can you be mentally present? Focus on your parents by putting away your phone. Find activities you can do together that encourage talking and engaging with one another. Play games or do a craft. Invite them to events and provide transportation.
If they have reached a stage where communication is limited or non-existent, there are still ways to be present with them. Read favorite Bible passages aloud, or grab books, magazines, or audiobooks from the library. Music provides comfort and joy. Turn on a favorite show or movie and make commentary. Reminisce about shared family memories or tell them about your day. The act of being mentally present with them is a gift you will both treasure.
In the current days of the coronavirus, nursing homes have had to close their doors to visitors. If that prevents you from visiting your parents, talk to the nurses. Schedule a phone call or ask if it is possible to video chat. If those aren’t an option, try the old-fashioned method of writing a letter each day.
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2. Hear and Engage
“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” (James 1:19 ESV)
While we are busy running errands, working hard, and living our lives, our aging parents have little to fill their time and often spend their days alone.
Even though my mother-in-love lives with us, we are often busy jumping from task to task while she sits watching television or playing on her phone. She craves conversation. Whether it be a simple listing of every task she’s completed that day or another rehashing of a favorite time in life, she wants to engage with people.
Remaining mentally engaged can be difficult, especially when you can recite their stories word for word, but it is necessary to show love. Don’t half-listen and nod at the appropriate times. Hear what your parent is saying. Ask questions to dive deeper into the story and find new nuggets of information.
In addition to engaging with their stories, be intentional in the conversations you start with your aging parent. Don’t just talk to them, talk with them. Ask what they think about various situations and allow them to give their opinions and related stories. Ask for their advice, even if you don’t take it. It gives you a chance to learn from their wisdom gained with age, and makes them feel valued.
If you disagree with them, simply stick with, “Thank you for your advice, I’ll take it into consideration.” If they ask about it later, you can always respond with, “I gave it some thought and came up with an alternative solution, but I appreciate your willingness to help.”
This intentional act of setting aside frustration, hearing what is being said, and then getting involved communicates to your aging parent that they still have something to offer, and you value them.
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3. Allow them to do things for themselves.
“And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest?” (Luke 12: 25-26 ESV)
The desire to preserve the lives of our parents often leads us to tell them what they can and cannot do. We see the risks involved in their everyday choices, and we fear for them. We think by taking control we can ensure a lengthy and healthy life for them.
However, we are not God. We cannot add a single hour to their lives by worrying or controlling them. What we are doing is robbing them of dignity and independence. That is not to say we shouldn’t evaluate situations and step in as necessary. What it does mean is we need to purposefully choose our battles and do what we can to help them maintain as much independence as possible.
One of the hardest acts of love I have learned is to allow my mother-in-love to push herself and adapt to her new mobility and health constraints. Sometimes that means she spends a day on the couch recovering. Other times it means celebrating her accomplishment of completing something that once was easy for her. Her decisions sometimes have negative repercussions, but trusting her to make those choices allows her to feel proud of herself and less of a burden. It is a hard but important act of love which requires trust in God for their future.
Depending on the needs of your aging parent, there are several ways you can help them adapt to their new living situation. Install a raised toilet seat with handles for them. Teach them how to use a smartphone or voice-controlled device like Alexa so they can call for help. Make sure a chair is within easy distance of doing dishes or tasks which require long periods of standing. Put frequently used objects within easy reach without bending or stretching. These simple things can make a big difference in their confidence and safety.
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4. Provide for them.
“But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Timothy 5:8 ESV)
While aging parents want their independence, the reality is there are tasks that they cannot do on their own and financial constraints with which they need help. Knowing they can count on someone to care for them no matter what happens assures them they are loved.
You can cook or purchase meals, do a load of laundry or dishes, cut the lawn or help with landscaping. Ask them what tasks they are struggling with and then come up with a solution.
Financial help doesn’t necessarily mean you take over their bills. Many government and nonprofit programs exist to help. Healthcare providers and hospitals should have a social worker or health advocate who can help direct you to those programs. It requires a lot of footwork and time, but consider it an act of love and service that will improve the quality of life for your aging parent.
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5. Give them extra grace.
Anxiety seems to grow and add an emotional burden to aging parents. They often need you to check on non-emergency things with life-and-death urgency and to be reassured with constant contact. It is exhausting, but responding to those needs with extra doses of grace, patience, and mercy communicates love to them.
Meet those non-emergency needs as often as possible or reassure them when you cannot. Listen to their concerns without dismissing them. Reassure them with God’s word whenever possible and pray with them.
Personally, on the days I feel like I don’t have the energy, I quote Colossians 3:23 to myself. “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” (ESV). Somehow, it always manages to provide me with the extra push needed.
“Love is patient and kind…” (1 Corinthians 13:4 ESV)
Showing love to our aging parents takes intention, patience, and the willingness to relinquish control. Give yourself grace for the days you fail, because there will be days, but with God’s help and His example, we can show love to the ones who loved us first.
Crystal Caudill is a wife, caregiver, mom of teen boys, historical romance author, and prayer warrior. She isn't perfect but she strives to grow in God and encourage others in their faith journeys every day. Learn more about her and her writing at http://www.crystalcaudill.com.
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Originally published Wednesday, 18 March 2020.