Caring for your aging parents — 17 March 2013
How to be the best adult child to aging parents

Parents are taught how to raise their children and youngsters are instructed to treat their elders with respect. Yet, when the roles of the generations get reversed many adult children are uncertain about how to relate to their aging parents. They often feel conflicted, inept, guilty and unprepared. How can adult children find comfort in caring for their parents while caring for themselves as well?

When senior parents are functioning well, their adult children are delighted and even prideful. They feel encouraged by their parents’ autonomy, self-sufficiency, interests, activities and life-style. It emboldens the children to think that their own life after retirement may also be positive, self-fulfilling and rewarding.

When parents cease to be active and self-sufficient, adult children may be at a loss to define their role in facilitating their aging parents’ lives. Baby boomers are very busy and burdened by their own responsibilities and adding a new “parenting role” may seem unnatural and overwhelming.

There are many fine resources that guide adult children in assessing their parents’ practical needs and accessing available resources such as: The National Council on Aging, The Alzheimer’s Association, The California Department of Aging, and Geriatric Management services such as: Parenting Your Parent, Santa Cruz (

Though some of the publications and agencies’ literature mention the emotional challenges of caring for aging parents, they often do not address the most distressing feelings adult children cite such as: guilt, regret, self-doubt, negative self-rating and being overwhelmed.

Whether your parents are self-sufficient, independent and proud people or needy and demanding, it is hard to feel secure about pleasing the people who have previously been your mentors. The role reversal is unscripted and perplexing. At the same time, decency, gratitude and love compels you to do all you can to accommodate your parents and conscientiously care for them.

How can you resolve being a good care provider for your parents and manage your life well? One woman lamented, “I always feel guilty when I take care of my family or have an enjoyable time away from my mom. It is hard to feel joyous when my mother may be lonely.”

To solve this dilemma you may want to follow the Bible’s Fifth Commandment. It says, “Honor your father and your mother so that your days may be longer upon the land the Lord, your God, giveth you.” One interpretation is that honoring your parents prevents excessive guilt, remorse or regret that may shorten your days on earth.

Based on the above edict, I suggest that you do for your parents whatever you require to rate yourself as a “loyal son/daughter”. It will most likely be a treat for your elders and provide you with a more positive view   of yourself for life.

Be the best adult child:

  • Determine your definition of what a loyal son/daughter does for his/her parents.
  • Practice being a loyal adult child.
  • Be free of guilt, remorse or regret for life.


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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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