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When an Ailing Parent Moves In

A growing number of families with young children are caring for an aging relative. Whether it’s temporary care following surgery or longer-term care due to a debilitating condition, more and more families find the best option for caring for aging parents is to invite them into the family home.

How can families ease the transition and help their young children adapt to these changes in the household?

Your kids probably fall into one of two categories: Children who have developed a relationship with a grandparent and may be upset by the changes they see in the person they love, and those who, due to today’s mobile society, may consider their grandparents near-strangers.

Either way, don’t push the bonding. Avoid pressuring Grandpa to join your family walk or play video games with your kids. Ask, but don’t cajole. Likewise, don’t force your child to interact with their grandparent. Require respectful and polite behavior, but your child doesn’t have to sit through reruns of Lawrence Welk with them.

“Families need to let go of preconceived ideas of what the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren will be,” says Shelly Edwards, Outreach and Program Director for the Alzheimer’s Association of Oregon. She describes how roles can change, such as entrusting a teenager with ‘babysitting’ grandma, rather than grandma babysitting the grandkids.

Discuss the grandparent’s condition in terms your child can understand. Will aspects of the grandparent’s condition upset your children? How can you explain in advance what to expect? Keep talking and responding to children’s questions as they arise.

Educate yourself and continually reassess and adjust, as needed. Edwards recommends that families learn all they can about a loved one’s condition and care needs to determine whether they can provide adequate care without physical or emotional harm.

Work together to establish rules for use of communal space and needs for privacy. Depending on the grandparent’s level of mobility, now might be the time to teach kids about knocking before entering the bathroom, etc.

Come up with a system for addressing conflicts or misunderstandings. Keep a notebook in which older children can write concerns, perhaps anonymously, to be reviewed later and to allow you time to find solutions or provide answers to questions.

Create a family check-in time when kids can talk freely - this may mean out of earshot of the grandparent. Ask your kids what is bothering them, and be prepared to listen without judgment. Pose questions, such as: “Is anything bugging you? Are you worried about anything? What is working especially well? What do you think we could do differently? Life isn’t fair, but is there anything going on that strikes you as particularly unfair right now, for you or for someone else in the family?”

Kids need to learn to be flexible and accommodating, but if Grandma’s presence brings all regular pursuits to a halt, kids will become resentful. If it becomes necessary to reduce the number of activities your kids are involved in, avoid using the grandparent as the primary excuse.

Compassion grows in children who feel loved, secure, and nurtured by others. As a caregiver to your own parent, you’re setting an admirable example for your children, but don’t forget to take time to laugh and have fun with them. Take care of yourself, and be sure your kids know they are safe and loved during this transition, however long it lasts.

8 simple steps for relieving caregiver stress

Caring for an ailing parent while raising children can be incredibly stressful. While meeting everyone else’s needs, be careful not to neglect your own:

1. Take time for yourself, even if it’s just 10 minutes a day. Breathe slowly and allow yourself to relax.

2. Identify one pleasurable thing you can do for yourself this week; something you want to do, not something you feel you should do.

3. Share your story to let those around you know what you are going through and ask for help.

4. For now, learn to say no to other responsibilities.

5. Spend one-on-one time with your spouse and with your kids.

6. Join a support group.

7. Make time for exercise and eating right.

8. See your doctor. Caregivers often neglect their own health, skipping regular wellness exams and ignoring ailing symptoms.

A sense of humor and knowing when to ask for help have allowed freelance writer Heather to survive 17 years of parenting, which included six months of caring for her mother in her home. Find her at


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