It’s fairly common for married couples to juggle the demands of work, home/marriage, and community service as well as trying to meet the needs of senior parents. My husband and I are in our late 50’s with three parents still living, and so it is an art knowing when helping and not helping elders is wise.

My own parents are still somewhat active and have close family living nearby. This is a blessing, as I live far away. My role is often one of emotional support over email and telephone. When I visit, I help with paperwork and assessing and modifying support services. It’s not easy to watch them age, but I have not had to do much in the way of direct care.

With my new marriage a few months ago, however, I gained a mother-in-law in failing health. We are navigating establishing a new relationship. At the same time, I’ve become the person taking her to have her driving assessed, accompanying her as she learned she could no longer drive, helping with doctors and setting up caregivers, and making sure her paperwork is in order. Stressful for me and she is understandably feeling somewhat resistant and annoyed (and a bit grateful!) about my involvement! I’m also seeing when I need to be direct with my hard-working new husband about when he needs to also participate with Mom. We are learning together how to balance helping her and respecting her independence.

I find this balancing act comes up with my own parents as well. When do we as children allow them to make their own choices, and when do we intervene? How do we maintain a good relationship with them when they see us as interfering in their lives at times? We are doing role-reversal as we worry about and pray for their safety.

One piece of learning is that it helps elders still feel independent when they can help choose their caregivers and direct their caregivers with what to do or not do! It allows them to accept help, but at least somewhat on their own terms. We don’t always know what is best for them, even if we think we do!

I notice it helps me as I practice the character quality of respect. I regularly ask myself, “How would I want to be treated when I’m in my 80s?” It makes it easier for me with being patient and caring.

At the same time, my husband and I regularly affirm our commitment to exercise, to keeping our minds sharp, and to pre-planning end of life services. Being around our elderly parents is an opportunity for us to learn from what they have done well and where other choices might have made life easier for them now.

In the greater picture, we feel amazingly blessed to still have three parents alive. We see our children coping with the loss of parents and in-laws and how difficult it is. Even though there are challenges as our parents age, the joy in still having close relationships with them is greater. Please find a parent to love today!

Photo by David Niblack,