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Rethinking relationships: what you need to know about

Along with the many impacts supporting a parent can have, the effect on your relationships can be the most unexpected and profound. In some cases, someone we’ve spent a lifetime deferring to needs us to step up and allow them – at times – to look to us for the answers. At the same time this new role may affect relationships with the rest of the family: siblings may not see things the way you do; old jealousies may surface under the strain.

In this altered world, how can you cope?

Allow them to continue to be your parent

As anyone who’s been a parent knows, out children are always our children, even when their hair turns grey. And despite half a lifetime’s experience, there may also be a part of us that is still clinging onto the child’s need for their recognition and approval. This can make life especially challenging when, for example, you need to be more assertive in order to keep them safe or manage their finances for them.

Try to avoid a complete reversal of the child-parent relationship. Human nature seems to dictate that the more someone treats us like a child the more we behave like one and you may find the more you do for them the more dependent they will become. At whatever level your parent is able to operate, be clear with them about their responsibilities to themselves. And, if you can, find opportunities for them to continue to parent you, for example by asking for their advice on anything from an important life choice to when to prune the climbing rose.

Get help in ditching some of the baggage

If you are someone who put as much distance as you could between your adult life and your parents then being forced to go back is likely to add to the stress of the situation. After all, you’re all on a bit of an emotional roller coaster and difficult emotions don’t always bring out the best in everyone.

If this is happening it’s useful to remind yourself that the difficulties were always there and have only been thrown into sharper relief by the amount of time you are having to spend together and the sensitive territory you are having to navigate. This would be a very good time for you to get support for yourself from a counsellor in order to deal with some of the issues and events that remain unresolved between you.

When siblings behave badly

Most of us can think of at least one or two people who’ve become estranged from their families over the division of responsibilities, labour or – sadly – filthy lucre. Jealousies and misunderstandings over what is motivating some of your decisions may come into play, while on your side there may be anger and resentment that you’ve somehow been left carrying the can. The only way to avoid or repair such situations is to make lots of time to talk and listen in equal measure to each other – especially if you’ve never done so before.

As you do so remember that we all have a tendency to see things not as they are but as we are. If you can, try to detach from your own ‘story’ about what is happening and step into your siblings’ shoes to see how things look to them – and encourage them to do the same.

The Checklist

This checklist may be useful:

  • Share as much of the decision-making and practical care as you can. You are still a family after all.
  • Ask yourself whether you are excluding others? Sometimes when we are under pressure it’s easier to do things ourselves, but that may foster suspicion about what is going on.
  • Organise regular family meetings to keep everyone in touch. You can ask the professionals to get involved in these too to help take some of the heat from you.
  • Recognise that other family members may make different choices and you can’t change them. If you hold onto resentment, you’re the one it hurts the most.
  • Be aware that family issues, jealousies and resentments may be revived in this new stressful situation. Try to avoid stirring all that up by firmly insisting on keeping the focus on what needs to happen now.
  • Read more about dealing with your own emotions.

Do you have any advice you would like to share? Or would you like to ask others about their experience? Go to the Age Space Forum and join the conversation.