Why Caring for Aging Parents Is Easier with Kids | 6 Reasons Being a Parent Helps Me Be A Better Caregiver

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While, it does have it’s unique challenges, I am a better caregiver to my MIL with Dementia because I’m caregiving with kids.

caring for aging parent and raising kids I find it hard to believe myself but I truly think caring for aging parents is easier with kids.
When you think about being a caregiver for your parents most imagine it will happen after kids are grown and gone if it happens at all. Even then, you envision it will look more like visitation or helping out here and there. 
I know I certainly never expected to be raising my children and caring for a parent at the same time…under the same roof. While, it does have it’s unique challenges, the more time I spend in these roles the greater my realization that timing is everything. I am a better caregiver to my MIL with Dementia because I’m also a mom to young children. So, exactly how does being a parent help me be a better caregiver?

Communication needs are the same

My MIL’s desires for instant gratification, her lack of reasoning, constant questioning, and the need for routine and repetition could just as easily be coming from my children. This knowledge affects my response.
  • I give direct and honest answers to questions.
  • I keep information to a minimum to avoid confusion. Instructions are simple and detailed, sometimes one step at a time and repeated until understood.
  • “Reason” is used on a limited basis and never to win an argument and sometimes you have to trust me and do it because I said so.
  • I often turn to redirection and distraction to avoid difficult and unnecessary confrontations and tantrums.
  • I’m able to stay calm when my MIL blurts out something that might otherwise be embarrassing. Just like I calmly answer when my three-year-old shouts out in the ladies’ room for all to hear, “Mommy, are you pooping?”, I’m able to calmly respond to my MIL when she asks or says something socially inappropriate.

Routines are paramount

MIL and Kids PlayingMy mother-in-law and my children all need routines to feel confident and comfortable. Adjustments are made for ages but the basic routines are in place. This keeps arguments at a happy minimum.
  • Every morning we get up, get dressed, have breakfast, and school time (my MIL “helps” me school the kids).
  • Everyone knows to bring their plates to the sink after meals, baths are the same time every day (although at different times for each individual), our rest time is at 1pm, and all electronics will be turned off at bedtime (7:30pm for the kids and 10pm for everyone else).
  • I keep all appointments and errands to one or two days in the week.
They all thrive under the security a well-built routine brings. Having the routines in place keeps enforcing the rules an automatic occurrence rather than a continuous argument. 

A need for recognition

“Look Mommy!” Is something I hear frequently throughout the day. Whether is a colored picture, a picked up play space, or a box of “decorative” rocks carefully gathered, my children are constantly seeking my approval and recognition for their job well done.
Recently my MIL called me into her room. I walked in expecting her to make a request or show me a problem but no, she wanted me to see that she had hung up her laundry. It was all dirty laundry but that wasn’t the point. She wanted me to be proud of a job she did. I praised her for taking the initiative and for being so helpful. Later I went in and took it all down and put it back in the hamper for washing. 
After every meal, all of my charges want to be congratulated on eating all their food, bringing their plate to the sink, and bonus rewards for doing it quickly and without complaint. Recognition is important and much sought after in our home. 

What is time?

Waiting is probably one of the most difficult concepts for all my charges. If they are looking forward to something, big or small, I know I will be asked about it frequently until it occurs. I also know simply asking for patience is a losing battle.
I have found the best course of action to be redirection. “Dinner will be in twenty minutes. Why don’t you put your things away (toys for the kids, books and activities for my mother-in-law) and wash your hands.”
For bigger events like visits from family or a special trip we do count-downs on the refrigerator. 

Along with waiting, my kids and MIL all have a more creative concept of time. 
“Yesterday” might mean earlier today or something they remembered from three months ago. I often have to keep my thinking cap firmly in place to follow our conversations.
“Five minutes” is an eternity for them.
Five minutes to get out the door? Let’s all take our time to put on our shoes and gather our things.
Five minutes until lunch? We’re all going to starve!

The Need To Be Entertained

MIL and Kids watching a movieAfter finishing a task or project, I frequently hear from all three of my charges, “What should I do now?”. The idea of entertaining themselves or even coming up with a project or task does not compute for any of them.
I’m frequently referring to my mental list of things to keep them occupied. Just like my children, my MIL needs to be told or reminded what things she can do to occupy her time.
Fortunately, the things that occupy the kids often keep her entertained as well. Many of our activities – outside time, puzzles, reading time, rest time, clean ups – are done together.
If none of my entertainment ideas sound appealing to her (or my children), I’ll start suggesting chores instead. This usually results in picking from my previous list of fun.

Needs of the many

If it is something my kids need, odds are my MIL will need it too.
  • All of our cups have lids to avoid spills.
  • We have regular bathroom breaks and reminders.
  • I cut up everyone’s food into bite-sized portions for every meal.
  • Nap time cannot be skipped or the “witching hour” will be felt for miles.
  • If one person has a banana I better have enough for the others.
  • If it’s something I would need a sitter for my kids, my MIL will need someone to stay with her as well. 
Knowing that my MIL’s needs/desires often mimic that of my young children make this an optimal time to have her in our home. I’m not having to make huge changes to our lives to accommodate my her. She fits into our home and life beautifully.
sandwich generation family of six
Are you challenged with raising your children and caring for your aging parents?

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