Ageing is an inevitable, undeniable truth of life that is bound to strike each one of us at some point. Perhaps, at this juncture in life, it’s your parents who are living this reality. And probably, you’re having difficulties coping with it.
We’re not just talking about coping with having to watch your parents grow older–but also having to deal with their crankiness and grumpiness resulting from ageing.
“Ageing brings a cascade of physical and emotional changes, which can lead to a variety of behavioural changes in our loved ones. All too often, family members complain that an elderly loved one is hostile, unpleasant, rude or awkward, and this can lead to explosive family rows and simmering resentment on both sides,” explains Sneha George, counselling psychologist, Fortis Malar Hospital, Chennai.
However as their child, you can view these encounters from an entirely different perspective and handle this situation better with these tips:
1. Establishing an understanding is the first step
“For a person, who has always been independent, athletic, and able to recall many details, losing these faculties with age brings many underlying fears to the surface,” says George.
“Feeling of both helplessness and hopelessness can overtake their thought processes. Cognitive decline can trigger severe levels of frustration. Plus most people are more irritable when they do not feel well,” she adds.
Thus, it is important to remember that their anger is often an expression of their inner fears, and that while the complaints may seem to be hurled at you, it often has little if anything to do with you.
2. Treat them like the adults that they are and listen to them
Sometimes, your parents’ crankiness may make you feel like they’re the kids and you’re the parent. That’s exactly when you need to remind yourself of this one true fact, according to George: “They are still your parents and that they desire and deserve to be treated with respect.”
You also need to analyse and assess the situation with calmness. “And give them a patient hearing because sometimes that’s all they need,” suggests Kavita Yadav, founder, director, and lead trainer, JiNa-LivingPositively, a Gurugram-based parenting, life skills, and counselling centre.
3. Maintain your calm in times of turbulence
It is possible for your parents’ crankiness to cause fights in the family. But you’ve got to stay uptight when hell breaks loose.
“Do not react when they are in a state of crankiness. Be patient and remember that you don’t need to fight all battles,” says Yadav.
“Give them space and leave them alone for some time in this situation by excusing yourself politely without disrespecting them or hurting their feelings,” she adds.
However, if you think you’re running out of patience in one of those tricky situations, try this technique suggested by Yadav: Start counting backwards from 10 to one slowly while deep breathing simultaneously. This can help you regain your control and make you aware of the unhealthy thoughts at that moment, and stop you from reacting rudely.
4. Focus on the good things
You might be in the trenches now, but you and your parents have shared a lifetime together. Hence, when times get tough, George suggests you must focus on the good qualities of your relationship with your parents and the happy memories you have shared with them.
5. Bring in some change
It’s easy to fall into patterns of negative interactions. So identify stressful situations and arrange for a change of scenery or add in a new activity that everyone can enjoy together.
“A nature walk, a lunch outing, or any activity that can help channel negative emotions into positive ones can help,” says George.
6. Keep your expectations low
“Do not expect much from your parents in their old age.” Yadav says. “No matter how hard you try, the crankiness might never go away, so the only way out is to manage your emotions and cope with it,” she adds.
7. Create a proper support structure
Come on! You’re human too. You can’t single-handedly manage work, family, personal growth, friendships, and whatnot! So, know your limitations and then create an adequate support system for your parents by seeking assistance from other members of the family as well as a caretaker–as it can make your life a lot easier according to Yadav.
Additionally, George recommends consulting with a physician to determine if there are any underlying causes, say clinical depression or dementia, leading to your parents becoming cranky.