When Your Only Date is Mom
How single boomer caregivers can bring romantic intimacy back into their lives.
By Kelly Scott Vice President of Program Integration and Innovation, Emeritus Senior Living
If you are single and juggling your parent’s care
and a busy career, you may have given up on dating. One in three baby boomers is unmarried, a significant increase from 30 years ago, when just one in five people between the ages of 43 and 65 was single. Meanwhile, boomers’ parents are living longer: the number of Americans 85 and older has doubled in the past 20 years and half have Alzheimer’s disease or some other form of dementia.
Little time or energy for relationships Between devoting 20 hours a week to your parent -- the national average for caregivers -- and 40 weekly hours to work, you might be like the single baby-boomer caregiver who said that “when I’m finished with everything I have to do for my mother in a day, the last thing I’m thinking about is going out and meeting someone.”
Lack of intimacy has perils Companionship, intimacy and sexuality are core human needs that promote psychological and physical health. A romantic relationship enriches daily life and can help you in handling stress, including the stress of caregiving. And withdrawing from intimacy can have a long-term impact. Caregiving can go on for years and if it ends with a parent passing away, it leaves an emotional void if this has been your primary focus. At that point, it can be very hard to know how to resume dating.
The complication of family dynamics Your parent may expect you will focus on him or her exclusively in return for the years spent raising you. If you have brothers or sisters who are married and have families of their own, you might have assumed a greater share of the caregiving responsibilities. Sometimes the married siblings will say, “You don’t have a family, so you have more ability to handle this.” Perhaps the situation has never been discussed and you have simply taken on the responsibility because it seemed to make sense.
How to bring dating back into your life Talk to your family Tell your parent that you’ve decided to add focus to this aspect of your life. Say “I love you very much, but I need to have some time to myself.” Explain that your parent will still see you often and that his or her needs will still be met. Talk to your brothers and sisters, and be polite but firm in asking that they take on more care responsibilities. Say that “Mom is Mom to all of us, not just me, and I need time for my personal life like you do.”
Set boundaries Establish reasonable limits as to how much time you will dedicate to your parent. Otherwise, the expectation may be that you are always available. A way to do this is to tell your parent ahead of time when you will be visiting and how long you will stay, and then abide by that schedule. Set limits on the number of phone calls you will answer from your parent each day by explaining what times you can receive them. If possible, plan to call Mom or Dad at regular intervals so she or he knows when to anticipate hearing from you. This reassurance that you will be in touch may help reduce the amount of calls you receive.
Change your caregiving patterns Before each visit, call your parent and find out if there is anything he or she needs. This allows you to pick up needed groceries or a prescription on the way, rather than being asked to take extra time during your visit to get the items and bring them back to your parent. If you dine frequently with your parent, have breakfast or lunch together rather than dinner. This will free up evenings for social and recreational activities that connect you with new people.
Find solutions to your parent’s emotional needs When an aging parent calls multiple times daily or wants you to extend a visit, it’s often because he or she is lonely and disengaged. If residing in a senior living community, talk with the life enrichment director about your parent’s specific lifelong interests and how they could be fulfilled now. Work with the staff to create more involvement in activities that lead to friendships and meaningful engagement. If living alone, look at connecting your parent with local activities such as senior centers, meal programs and senior outings.
Be candid when a relationship begins If you meet a potential romantic partner, go slowly on explaining the details of your caregiving responsibilities, but do talk honestly about the subject. Say that you are caring for a parent, describing briefly how much time you spend supporting your loved one and when the visits normally occur. This provides both of you the same understanding about the time you have available for developing a relationship.
Recognize if you need help Caregiving can be physically and emotionally stressful. It is not uncommon to develop feelings of sadness, anger and guilt. Loss of interest in dating and meaningful intimacy could be a sign that you have caregiver depression. Other symptoms may include indifference to activities you normally enjoy, insomnia or excessive sleeping, or changes in appetite that result in weight loss or weight gain. Some people experience increased dependency on alcohol, tobacco, drug use, or casual sexual liaisons. Left untreated, depression can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems. If you experience any of these, please seek the support and help that are available to deal with the psycho-social aspects of caring for an aging parent. Resources include psychologists, counselors, pastors and support groups. You can find more support group information online through the Alzheimer’s Association (alz. org); Eldercare Locator (eldercare.gov); Caring.com and Caregiver.org.
Your happiness matters -- to you and your parent We all have a responsibility as human beings to take care of ourselves. If your only focus is caring for your parents, you are denying important needs. And after talking with your parent about the issue, you may find he or she is supportive of your desire for a relationship. Many people in the senior generation have had long, stable and successful marriages, and they want the same happiness for their children.
Our Family is Committed to Yours.
About the Author Kelly has been with Emeritus Senior Living for more than 13 years. For the last 7 years, she has focused her energy on developing effective and innovative programs for the Alzheimerâ€™s and Memory Care residents at Emeritus communities. Specifically, Kellyâ€™s role involves researching best-practice programming for this fragile population, and developing and implementing training for Emeritus caregivers. Her work is vital to the Emeritus mission to make a difference in peopleâ€™s lives by providing service of the highest quality and value in a supportive environment, promoting the health, independence and social interaction of seniors. Kelly is also an expert and advocate for caregiver education and support. She has a series of caregiver tips on the Emeritus web site. Click here to view this video series. www.Emeritus.com