"Caring for Dad Is Destroying Us"

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The Counselor's Turn

Caring for Aging Parents

"Few people are prepared for the legal, financial, and emotional challenges involved in caring for an elderly parent," said the counselor. "Disappointment and unrealized expectations can chip away at even the strongest marriage. Claire and Tom were no exception.

"I reminded them that there is no right or wrong way to care for an aging parent. 'Every situation is different. But it's imperative that you check in with each other regularly and communicate your thoughts,' I said.

"I urged them to have a regular, weekly talk to handle small problems before they snowballed, which they now do every Sunday night. Tom promised to let Claire know when her tone is harsh, or if he is worried about business. To catch his frustration before it turns to anger, I taught him to tune in to his body's signals. He noticed that he clenches his jaw when he gets upset; by consciously taking a mental step away -- by taking deep breaths or counting to 10 -- he can cool down instead of explode.

"They've also begun to pay attention to small things that can lighten the mood and keep them connected. Listening to music, taking 10 minutes to snuggle on the couch, even using their best dishes when they eat takeout pizza help Claire feel less neglected.

"Being specific about their needs enabled them to create a schedule that gave each of them short respites. For example, Claire loves going to thrift shops and flea markets, and she missed having time to sing with her church choir. Tom hoped to carve out two hours twice a week to go to the gym. By creating a schedule early in the week, they could look forward to these 'time-outs.' That made the daily grind easier to bear.

Continued on page 5:  The Counselor's Turn, continued


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