Adjusting the Holidays as Your Parents Age

Adjusting the Holidays as Your Parents Age

Caught between generations and wondering how to prepare for the upcoming holidays?

Often our own parents and our own children age and need special attention at the same time, resulting in a very hectic life. I experienced this myself and often felt that I was letting someone down. During the holidays we often put a lot of stress on ourselves to make them memorable for everyone.

There may be family traditions that you want to maintain for your parent, while continuing traditions you have made with your own children. As parents age and seem less flexible, this can cause an increase in stress and may result in the holidays seeming to be more work than being the blessing they should be.

Tension can rise when parents are unable to approach the holidays with the strength and enthusiasm they once had. Perhaps they are physically less able to care for themselves and/or mentally in decline which may result in agitation and other personality changes. Both physical and mental changes might result in them being uninterested in participating in holidays due to apathy or depression.

Often as we age, we find a safe environment and daily routine comforting. Adjusting your expectations and plans requires being honest about your parent’s physical and/or mental condition. Hopefully their doctor can let you know what is going on and give you practical advice. If you still feel overwhelmed, a professional Geriatric Manager can be a wonderful asset in evaluating abilities, needs and suggesting resources.

Discuss the holidays with your parents and ask what their wishes would be – do they want to continue hosting family gatherings at their home but are overwhelmed with the work this entails? Would they be ok with allowing another family member to host? What traditions or dishes are most important that they would like to see maintained and what can be let go? Asking for their help with preparing a special dish, setting out decorations or wrapping gifts can allow them to be involved but not stressed with having to do it all.

Perhaps going to religious services has been important. Incorporating these into the holidays may be especially meaningful to your loved one. Just keep in mind that this may be physically draining on them so perhaps some rest afterwards will be needed.

Do your parents get overwhelmed with the commotion of large gatherings? Is it difficult for them to recognize family members that they only see now and then? Perhaps name tags would help.

Is it hard for them to carry on conversations? This is especially difficult for those with hearing issues. Perhaps addressing this now before the holidays could be of help. My own father found it almost impossible to understand conversation in large groups, even with hearing aids. He would often retreat to his recliner in another room and watch TV. Family members could be found there with him having wonderful conversations in a quieter environment.

As a child I always loved to have my mom talk about her childhood holidays. Having these conversations  might be a wonderful way to allow different generations to understand each other a little better.  My own grandmother would describe how their Christmas tree was lit with real candles. As an adult I find this a frightening idea, but as a child it seemed charming. I was also moved by how meager the gifts they received were compared to what I enjoyed and yet how happy they were with whatever they got. Other ideas on bringing generations together might be to encourage grandparents to come to any programs your own children are a part of during this time. If not in person, perhaps a visit with the child to share videos or photos and let the child share their excitement.

Changes in ability to care for oneself can often come to light when we try to get people out of their routine and their comfort zone. They may just need a bit of coaxing and accommodation. However, it may be a wakeup call as to how much their abilities have changed. Using a home care company, to help with personal care, housekeeping, meals and/or shopping can allow them the autonomy of living in their own home and also take some of the burden off of family members. Please be aware that private duty home care companies are not licensed in Missouri, unlike most other states. You will want to make sure to contact companies that have a good reputation.

Most importantly, keep in mind, when we look back at the holidays that were especially memorable, it is usually the overall feeling of security, meaning and love that we hold onto, rather than all the details. Keeping things simple can go a long way!

To learn more about resources for the elderly in Missouri, visit: 

Pam Stone, BSW, CCM

Certified Care Manager

Aging Life Care Association Advanced Professional Member

StaffLink Care Manager