Role Reversal

Establishing Your Role As Caregiver

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Bringing a parent into your home and establishing your role as caregiver requires adjustment. These three tips will help bring harmony back to your home.


I had no idea how difficult learning to live with a new person would be when I first got married. So many things I found endearing before were annoying to me now. Like most couples,, my new husband and I had to learn how to live in harmony. We had to adjust to another way of living. It was the same when each of my children were born.

how to establish your role as caregiver for your aging parent

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When my MIL became part of our family, there was that period of adjustment again. It took us a while to learn to live as one family. Just as in marriage and parenting, moving your own parent to your home requires daily work and compromise.

There is no quick and final fix. You will constantly work to find balance while establishing your role as caregiver, but there are a few things I have learned that make the work easier.

Establishing Our New Roles

Regardless of their mental and physical abilities there will be a certain amount of role reversal. You are now the head of the home and often take on a more “parental” role. When my MIL moved in with us, I found there were three stages in our adjustment to these new roles.

1. Learning or re-learning your parent’s abilities and needs to help you determine what role you will play.

I noticed right away that our role of MIL/DIL would have to be greatly adjusted, if not reversed completely. My MIL has noticeable  judgment issues and problems with rational thinking. She struggles with short-term memory, often forgetting things after just a few minutes.

Once we had our official diagnosis of Frontotemporal Dementia and Early Alzheimer’s Disease, it was much easier for us to establish our roles.

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    In my MIL’s case, I had to take on a more parental role than I originally expected. She often requires as much instruction and attention as my children.

    Related Post: Why Caring for Aging Parents is Easier with Kids

    2. Finding balance

    There was a period of about 6 months where I struggled tremendously. As a mom of young children, there were certain household rules I expected to be followed for the health and safety of the family. Yet my MIL felt those rules infringed on her independence. She would often lament about how horrible her life was and how my children had more freedoms than she did.

    It was quite a learning curve, but we finally found ways to keep the peace by phrasing things in such a way that she felt like she was making decisions. We know what battles to fight and which ones to let go. Sometimes being kind is better than being right.

    Related Post: Being Confident in Your Authority As A Caregiver for Your Aging Parent

    3. Maintaining routines and building habits

    When we first became my MIL’s caregivers, she was constantly wanting to eat. After a while, I decided everyone would eat at the same times.

    Breakfast is at 7:30, Lunch is at 11:30, Snack is at 3:00, Dinner is at 6:00.

    By building this routine, we have less conflict during the day when I say it’s not time to eat. An added bonus is our meals have become amazing family times. These routines keep us from getting frustrated with one another, it keeps my MIL from being as confused, and it allows my MIL (and even my kids) a certain amount of freedom.

    Actively Pursue Respite

    I cannot stress to you enough the importance of taking a break! Even if it’s just for a short period you need to take time off to recharge.

    Related Post: 10 Ways to Find Time for Rest

    There are many free programs out there for senior adults. When we first began our home together, we had my MIL in a support group for senior adults. This freed me up to attend a Bible Study.

    After a while, we felt it necessary to hire our CNA to come stay with her three afternoons a week giving me the opportunity to spend alone time with my kids, run errands, or visit friends.

    For my family reunion last year, my husband’s sister came and stayed giving us a much-needed vacation. For shorter outings like date nights, I’ve been able to call on my family and other friends to help out.

    Do not be afraid to ask for help! Build your network of support. There are so many options out there. Contact your local chapters of the Alzheimer’s Association, health and human services, and surrounding assisted living facilities or nursing homes to find out what programs will fit your needs. Additionally, there is funding available for hiring help which your local health and human services department can point you toward.

    Changing my perspective

    This is perhaps the most important step to bringing harmony into your home. I don’t know how many times in the first year I kept insisting that my MIL was “living with us”. I wanted people to recognize our sacrifice. This line of thinking was a giant roadblock to finding peace and harmony in our home.

    As long as someone is “living with you” they are simply a guest, an interloper, it’s temporary and often inconvenient. I had to change my thinking. My MIL is not living with us and we are not living with her. She is as much a part of my family as my husband and my children.

    As we approach our fourth year of caregiving, I still have people ask me how I do it, or even why do I do it.  I have learned so much and my character has grown and developed through this experience. I do it by the grace of God and His mercies, new every morning.

    By spending time learning and developing our roles, seeking help when I need it, and changing my perspective we have a harmonious and peaceful home and family.

    Did you like this post? What have you discovered helps the most in bringing harmony to your home? Let me know in the comments below!

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