Many changes take place in the relationships between adult children and their parents when the parent has a degenerative disease such as Parkinson’s. In many respects the child becomes the parent figure, taking on responsibility for the parent’s care and overall well-being. Some adult children may already be in such a role as a result of changes in the parent due to aging. It can be a challenging balance for the adult child and the parent to maintain, and either or both may be resistant to changing roles. It is difficult to relinquish independence at any age, regardless of the reason, and the person doing so often focuses his or her resentment on the person who is stepping in to pick up caregiving responsibilities. Compassion and empathy help each to see the other’s perspective, and to treat the other with appropriate respect. The relationship can become particularly strained if the adult child and the parent have not been close and the parent’s condition now forces them to become so.
When there is more than one adult child, there are sometimes disagreements about how to divide responsibilities. It is important for families to talk through these issues and to involve the parent with Parkinson’s in discussions to the extent that this is reasonable. Sometimes the parent’s cognitive impairment becomes a significant factor, and he or she cannot participate in dialogue and decisions regarding his or her care and circumstances. When families are not able to have such conversations before it becomes necessary to take action, resentment and uncertainty about doing the right things often result. When the diagnosis of Parkinson’s is made early enough and before other health problems become factors, family members including the person with Parkinson’s can plan for future needs.
The challenges of a chronic, degenerative disease such as Parkinson’s can bring out the best or the worst in families and in parent/child relationships. Strained relationships can but do not necessarily improve because the parent’s situation has changed; it often requires concerted effort particularly by the adult child to reconcile past differences to focus on present and future needs. The adult child may resent the changing roles as much as the parent; it is an intense emotional transition for most people. Strong family relationships, however, tend to become even stronger as family members draw together to support one another. Candor, humor, and kindness help to maintain open lines of communication.
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