How to Handle the Stress of Being a Caregiver for Your Aging Parents

While we mostly focus on travel and homeschooling on this blog, one of the biggest challenges we have faced as a family is serving as caregivers for aging parents. Charlotte Canion, author of You Have to Laugh to Keep from Crying: How to Parent Your Parents, offers her insights on how to cope with the stress of being a caregiver and seeing the health of your parents decline.

Why did you write this book?

I was the caregiver for a father-in-law with dementia, a mother with Alzheimer’s and a father with Parkinson’s – all at the same time. My journey started over ten years ago and I was unable to find usable written information about aging diseases, information that was available was written by doctors and read like a medical textbook in a foreign language. I kept a journal and knew at that time, I was going to write a book. My passion was and still is to help adult children cope with the stress that goes along with caring for a parent or aging loved one. I share down-to-earth advice on how to manage everything from day-to-day tasks to making long-term decisions on the right type of care for their elderly loved ones.

How does remembering to laugh help in dealing with aging parents?

Laughter creates endorphins and doctors have proven that laughter has helped even those with cancer. I tried to find the humor in every situation and that helped to heal even the toughest of problems. Everyone wants to be happy and laughter is the key to opening the doors to euphoric feelings. If you read my book you will discover that my dad, who was a difficult man, had done some very bad things in his life. Forgiveness was a big part of my story and the healing came through laughter. Laughter was the saving grace in many situations with all my parents.

What does “Parenting Your Parents” mean?

WOW! You ask the big question, because the answer is different for many people. I wrote my book with LOVE – RESPECT – PATIENCE – FORGIVENESS.  My parents brought me into this world and without them I would not be here. I felt the obligation to step up and do whatever needed to be done. All in the context of giving back what they had done for me as a child. I was well fed, had a roof over my head and I got an education. I retired early in order to be ready for whatever was coming next. A little known fact is nine out of ten caregivers are a female.

I came up with Four Golden Rules:  

You have to LOVE unconditionally, (you may not like some of their actions or comments) but you must Love them.  

RESPECT is what we have learned from childhood and the world would be a better place, if we would respect each other - especially our parents. Our parents tried to do their best and many times failing, but it is within our power to show the respect that they need at this point in their lives.  

PATIENCE is something we must practice every day. As a caregiver I had to have patience with my parents for who, what, and where they were at any given time of the day. I also had to have patience with myself for the feelings I would go through.  Caregivers are human, and they need to take care of themselves first, because if the caregiver got sick, who will take care of their parents? We need to vent; we may need to cry, and we may even want to scream. But we never want the loved one to feel they caused those feelings. The diseases that are attacking our parents or loved ones are out of their control, and I feel there is enough confusion in their minds, without my adding to their confused state of mind. I save my crying and venting outside, where they cannot hear me. This will create a calming and more productive environment.

FORGIVENESS is the hardest. Many adult children carry around feelings that need to be forgiven. Many parents have a hard time forgiving their children of something that may have happened decades ago. I have a favorite saying: Unforgiveness is an Anchor – Forgiveness is Freedom. As I said earlier, my father was not a model father, and he had done things that most people could never forgive. In my book I tell the “FORGIVENESS STORY”, and I share this story at churches and many groups. The response is amazing, and people tell me that they have been estranged from a family member for decades. I give them hope! I was the only one who could be my dad’s caregiver.

Remember all you will have left are memories once your loved ones are gone; create cherished memories now!

How can members of the Sandwich Generation manage caring for aging parents and their own children?

Since families are having children later in life these days, it is probably more conceivable that the seniors are older, and thus the chance of needing care becomes an issue. I have seen where couples have their retired parents move closer to them, so they can help out when needed. I have also seen where a single senior came into the home and to help with the children. This is really a great idea, as nowadays grandparents and grand-children have very little time together. One hundred years ago families lived together, and the children were influenced by the grandparent(s). This was and is a good thing. In today’s society, both parents work and that leaves the children with strangers. Some of the young families with elderly parents have them move into a home next door or on the same street. In today's society there are many communities of Retirement Villages, and these facilities provide great activities, medical care, and individual living units. Can the Sandwich Generation manage caring for aging parents and care for their own children? YES! Every family member can help as a team. My parents loved to see grandchildren and great grandchildren; they could see their legacy live on. There are many organizations that can come in during the day and help the parent with daily needs. It becomes the responsibility of the adult children to be smart as to when it is time for a facility to handle the really tough cases of parenting parents. That is the time you can shower all the love and attention on the aging parent and not have to worry about the day to day normal needs.

How can our readers find out more about you?


Charlotte is a Master Gardener and a Texas Super Star Specialist (Gardening Book to come out this spring, MeMom and Friends Gardening Tips. Through Skype interviews, she has become known all over the world. She has been published through a variety of articles, both national and international. She was recognized by the Spirited Women’s Magazine, Alzheimer’s Association, Hospice Plus, EWTN radio, KDKR radio, CUTV, Texas Authors Radio, Preferred Radio, Decatur Library Garden Series Podcast and Keynote Speaker, The Christian Entrepreneurs, Senior Focus, Timeless Family, Women of Worth, National Publicity Summit n New York and many others. You can also find her book in half a dozen libraries. Charlotte’s proudest accomplishment is her twenty grand-children.

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This week,

Have a great week and plan for the weekend!


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