5 Tips for Helping Our Parents Feel That They're Not a Burden

Parents are many things. A burden isn’t one of them.

5 Tips for Helping Our Parents Feel That Theyre Not a Burden

Nearly 50% of aging parents say they’re worried about being a burden to their children. So how do you help them to avoid that feeling — especially if you are finding caring for them challenging?

Maybe you’ve given up another Sunday afternoon book club to go grocery shopping and run errands for your aging loved one. Perhaps your spouse came along to help your dad with his computer questions while you check to see if your mom needs any prescription fills and to provide conversation over the meal you made. 

On the one hand, you love the family time and know it won’t last forever. On the other hand, you’d really love some R&R yourself. 

Later, you learn that your dad got lost on his drive home from church. How irritating that they didn’t say anything when you were over Sunday evening! 

If your parents are worried about feeling like a burden, they can end up putting themselves in danger. Plus, feeling like a burden is a deep and painful feeling of brokenness. No one wants to feel that way. 

Here are five tips for how to help your parents feel like they're not a burden.

1. Reframe Your Caregiving Mindset

Yes, caregiving is challenging. No, we don’t always choose to be caregivers. It’s common for caregivers to end up feeling like they’re not in control of their own life. 

Check yourself: Do you ever think of yourself as superior and believe that your aging parent needs to deal with life on your terms? Do you ever see your mom as old and a bit useless; therefore, her needs are not as important as yours?

Be careful what you’re focusing on each time you drive your parent to the doctor’s office or take a call from them in the middle of the workday, and focus on what you can control: You can control your behavior, your emotions and reactions, and what you choose to do about a situation. You can focus on doing your best to comfort and care for your loved one. 

However, you need to let go of those things that are out of your control. You cannot do it all. Recognize that you’ll need help sometimes, and don’t be afraid to ask. Think in positive terms: “It’s a tough job, but I’m doing the best that I can.”

If you really don’t feel like you have the tools, time, or resources to provide care for a chronically ill or aging loved one, that’s OK. It doesn’t make you a bad person — and it doesn’t mean that you are indifferent or abandoning your loved one, either. If you’re not cut out to be a caregiver, there are resources available to help you find the care your loved one deserves.

2. Treat Your Parents with Dignity

Yes, you might need to help your parent use the bathroom or drive them anywhere they go. These are reasons why some adult children feel as if they’re “parenting their parents.” 

Not only is that not helpful, but it’s not true, either. Although your parents are getting older and they might need a little more help than they once did, they are still adults. Your parents are your parents, even if you have to become their caregiver. Avoiding popular catchphrases like “role reversal” will help preserve your parent’s dignity, independence, and sense of control as well as your relationship with them. 

Instead of thinking about your relationship as one in which you provide care for your mom and dad, think about your relationship with your parents as a partnership. How can you help your parents make the best decision for themselves? 

3. Don’t Try to Solve Their Problems

Caring for your family doesn’t mean taking charge of their problems, giving unsolicited advice, or protecting them from their own emotions. Let them know their own strengths and allow them to ask you for what they need.

4. Help Them Find Purpose

Many of us were taught from a young age to believe that aging is somehow negative, something to be endured, something that makes us less capable — both in our personal and working lives. If your loved one believes that they’ve already experienced the prime of their lives and that the time after retirement is just one long, steady decline, then they risk seeing this extra healthy and productive time as a negative. 

Just because your parent has hit a certain age, which is deemed by society to be somehow old, doesn’t mean that they need to slow down in any area of their life. If you’ve noticed changes in your parent’s mood, that they don’t participate in activities they once did, or they lack the motivation to get out of bed in the morning, encourage them to focus on what they want out of this next chapter of life.

Ask your parent to pick one thing they’ve always wanted to try but never have. Perhaps it’s trying Tai Chi for the first time, or maybe it’s taking an art class. Giving back is another way your parent can find purpose in life again. If your parent’s happiness has been heavily reliant on roles — being the breadwinner, being a parent, being a caregiver — this may be just the thing they need. 

5. Reassure Them

Realize Mom may need to be reassured more than once that she’s not a burden. Yes, you told her last week, but what about today? Or right now?

What Older Parents Really Want

For more tips and information about supporting an aging parent, including advice from aging parents themselves, download our eBook What Older Parents Really Want from Their Adult Children.

What Older Parents Really Want from Their Adult