When Children and Spouses Become Caregivers

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This article is part of The Third Third of Life Toolkit—a collection of resources for ministry to and with people ages 55 and over, brought to you by two ministries of the Christian Reformed Church in North America: Disability Concerns and Faith Formation Ministries.

According to the U.S. Institute on Aging, 65 percent of older adults with long-term health needs rely exclusively on family and friends to provide assistance. In fact, care by family and friends may be the deal-breaker when it comes to deciding whether or not an older person can remain in their home. Today in the U.S., more than 40 million adult family caregivers are taking care of someone 50+ years of age.

On this page you’ll find resources that may give your church ideas about how to support both the older adults who need care and those who provide care for them.

Articles

  • Adult Children Caring for Elderly Parents by Robert Ritzema. This article describes tensions that often arise when an adult child must begin caring for a parent. He suggests the importance of empathy—of trying to understand the perspective of the other—as key to overcoming these tensions and working toward a new relationship.

  • Common Chronic Conditions and Aging at Home. This article from the ParentGiving newsletter encourages adult children to support parents with chronic diseases by finding out what kind of help is available and what types of equipment and support could enable them to keep living on their own.

  • In How to Work Well with Siblings When Caring for an Aging Parent, Mark Stephenson talks about his journey in working with his siblings, building a covenant together, and lovingly caring for their mother as she slipped into dementia.

  • A Guide to Caring for Elderly Parents is a careful, step-by-step walkthrough of all the decisions that need to be made about caring for a parent. The article includes a list of options for elder living—including staying at home, moving to an adult community, nursing care, etc.—in addition to sources for financial assistance for some of these choices.

Books

  • Being My Mom’s Mom by Loretta Anne Woodward Veney. This wonderful, upbeat memoir is a must-read for adult children who are caring for a parent with dementia. Veney doesn’t sugarcoat the challenges, and she describes how she is careful to ensure her own self-care—but her interactions with her mother are warm and filled with humor and grace. 

  • All Things Consoled: A Daughter’s Memoir by Elizabeth Hay. This memoir by a daughter whose return as caregiver brought up memories of an abusive and unhappy past is also filled with hope and healing. You’ll find Sonja VanderVeen Feddema’s insightful review of the book here

  • A Bittersweet Season: Caring for Our Aging Parents—and Ourselves by Jane Gross. Gross’s reflections on the years she and her brother spent caring for her mother are a helpful reminder that quality of life is more important than quantity of life. The author, a physician herself, notes that “inching toward oblivion” is no longer the exception but a “generalizable phenomenon.” Perhaps most helpful in the book are the author’s candid admissions of the mistakes she made (and perhaps readers can avoid) and her descriptions of how she dealt with the financial side of her mother’s care and made decisions about nursing care.

FOR THOUGHT OR DISCUSSION

  • How might your church family support aging adults who need care and assistance—especially those who don’t have family nearby?

  • Don’t forget the caregivers! How can the church equip and support caregivers in the congregation?

QUESTIONS?

If you’re part of the Christian Reformed Church in North America and you have questions about how to strengthen your church’s ministry to and with people in the third third of life, one of Faith Formation Ministries’ Regional Catalyzers would love to talk with you about ideas and strategies.

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