How to parent your ageing parents

Photo by Cristian Newman on Unsplash
Photo by Cristian Newman on Unsplash

Becoming a parent makes one think hard about our own upbringing, it contextualizes family and relationships and provides a different view of our own past experiences. 

New parents often implement their own parenting styles based on their feelings and experiences, and aim to avoid some methods, while continuing others.

While much thought goes into the new generation, not as much time is spent on one's own parents and their changing needs as they begin to age. 

Ageing is a privilege 

Only if we're healthy, and lucky, will we live into our 80's or 90's and so growing old should perhaps be seen as a privilege.

However, with that comes the potential burden on the middle generation, who are raising kids themselves and increasingly having to manage their ageing parents. 

We spoke to emotional wellness coach Kate Rowe for guidance on how to parent your parents.  

"Ageing is something we don’t like to acknowledge or think too much about, perhaps it we know instinctively that it will come with its challenges," Kate told Parent24

"I am not sure a person, myself included, can grasp the true nature of aging until we are experiencing it," she said. 

Kate shares that she has witnessed her grandparents aging and dying, and feeling the changes in her own body as the years go by. "More and more," she said, "I find I need to be kind and gentle with myself as I witness these changes."

From children, to care givers 

As our roles and relationship dynamics shift and change from being children, Kate says, to equals to ultimately care givers, "I think it is essential to cultivate a deep sense of empathy for our parents and grandparents, as they confront and deal with big life changes and the feelings which come with those."

Factors in ageing include losing a sense of agency and freedom, and knowing you are not as capable as you were.

"Perhaps much of what defined their sense of value and worth is being stripped away," Kate said, and they don't how to replace it.

In a society which praises youth and tries not to look at the elderly, it may be a time of feeling hopeless and perhaps lacking in meaning.

How are you feeling?

How can we meet these big emotions with care and kindness? 

Firstly, Kate said, we need to talk about it.

"Ask them how are you feeling?" she recommends. 

When tackling a tricky subject, like suggesting they give up driving, rephrase the conversation. 

"Perhaps instead of telling a parent that they cannot drive any more," Kate said, "the conversation can be about what would it feel like for you if you were not able to drive?"

These are potentially uncomfortable conversations, but it is important to have them anyway.

Managing change

"Secondly, be patient," Kate said, "humans are not always good with change, especially life altering change which brings up intense emotions." 

Thirdly, use your imagination to put yourself in their shoes, she said, and be with them on their journey as much as you are able.

Lastly, encourage and support them to find meaning in their lives. "Having a purpose which is bigger than us is strongly linked to how happy and satisfied we feel in life," she revealed. 

Untold wisdom

"Be gentle with yourselves and them during this time," Kate said, "there is untold wisdom to learn if you choose to journey with them rather than directing them."

Be with what is uncomfortable in you as you watch them age, notice what you are feeling in this process, she says, but most of all talk about it.

Try to share what is difficult and what is joyous for you, as you encounter different situations.

Top tips

As people age, they tend to feel a loss of control over many things, namely their independence,  according to These tips can help adult children to best navigate this sensitive stage. 

Step back

As a caregiver, and concerned child, it might be more efficient to take over, but it is important to allow them control within their capabilities.

Set boundaries

Detaching, with love, to protect your own mental space is important so it is important to maintain healthy boundaries.  

Be realistic

Managing your own expectations of your elderly loved ones and accepting your own personal limits is a good starting point. 

Do you care for an elderly parent or have tips for others in this position? Share your tips with us! 

Chat back:

Share your advice with us, and we could publish it. Anonymous contributions are welcome.

WhatsApp: Send messages and voicenotes to 066 010 0325

Email: Share your story with us via email at chatback @

Sign up for Parent24's newsletters.

Read more:

Why do old people hate new music?

Getting Grandma to use a smart phone

The stuffed and the slimy: These are the most dangerous Christmas toys

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24