With every passing day, the role of the family caregiver increases in importance. Why? Because, as our elder loved ones reach the point they are no longer able to live safely, prepare nutritional meals, maintain the household and themselves, adult children gradually begin to assume more and more responsibility for their wellbeing.

With that added responsibility comes additional stress. There are the self-imposed guilt trips. How can I focus on my spouse, my children and my career when I need to spend time with Mom and/or Dad in their time of need? Their demands upon my time have become all-consuming and I'm at my wits end. How do I balance their needs with my need for a life of my own?

Quite often the adult children find themselves in a position of having to make difficult choices. Would Dad be better off in an assisted living setting? How can we afford to hire caregivers to help our parents in their home? Perhaps I could take better care of Mom if she moved in with us? Should I consider caregiving as my full time job and give up my career for a while?

Nothing is easy in this world of caregiving. We find ourselves in the uncomfortable position of becoming parents to our parents. We don't know what to do next. There are organizations who offer assistance, but often we don't know where to look. What do I ask for? What can I expect to receive for money spent? How do I find the right services for my loved ones?

First things first

The legal aspect of caregiving is of the utmost importance. The necessity of your loved ones having a will, a living will, advance directives and assignment of powers of attorney are imperative. Without some legal direction, there is only so much you can do, even in a time of crisis. If there is no documentation currently in place, consult with an elder law attorney to determine what is needed. Then begin that all-important conversation with the elders involved.

Make a call to your local Area Agency on Aging. This nationwide organization has an office in almost every city in the country. They offer assistance through their help lines, benefits assistance, caregiver support groups and much more. Talk with your loved one's physician. Perhaps he/she can refer you to organizations and services specializing in the needs of the elderly.

Ask your friends. Chances are they have been, are now, or are anticipating being in the same place you are. The therapeutic benefits of a friendly chat with someone you trust are many. But, most important, speak with your elder loved ones –initiate a conversation about what they want and why. This may be the most challenging conversation you've ever had, but it will be worth the effort put forth. They may tell you that everything is just fine the way it is; that they don't want to be a burden on you. On the other side of the spectrum, they may insist that you to step in, put your life on hold, and care for them full time – according to their expectations.

If you have siblings (and assuming you are in accord), call a family meeting. Determine who is best able to take on certain responsibilities so that you are not carrying the entire load alone. But don't forget to involve Mom and/or Dad in these discussions. It is, after all, their lives you are discussing.

A learning experience

Whatever your circumstances, your relationship with your elders, or your own desires, I believe you will find that this time of your life can be one of enlightenment, enrichment, and more rewarding than you ever dreamed possible. You have been given a gift – although it may not seem like one now. A gift of sharing another person's journey toward the end of the road. You may be surprised at what you learn . . . not only about your loved one, but about yourself.

As my Mother said many times, "This too, shall pass." And when your job is done, when your loved ones have left this life, you will look back on this time as one of growth, of self-realization, and especially of love.

Author's Bio: 

Linda Thompson is the author of Every Generation Needs a New Revolution, How Six Generations Across Nine Decades can Find Harmony and Peaceful Coexistence, Planning for Tomorrow, Your Passport to a Confident Future, a common sense approach to life planning; and A Caregiver’s Journey, You Are Not Alone, a survival guide for working caregivers. To find out more about Linda’s presentations, workshops, and publications, visit: http://lifepathsolutions.biz/