As I approach 40, I find myself entering this in-between phase of life. I’ve secretly started referring to it as “the golden age” because, well, everything seems pretty golden right now. My husband and I are getting to that point of parenting where our daughters are fairly self-sufficient and yet still totally devoted to us. They haven’t quite crossed the line into crabby teenager-hood. Best of all, we’ve reached the phase of our family life where they can stay home for a bit by themselves. My husband and I have taken advantage of their growing independence to take walks around the neighborhood. It’s been a nice way to reconnect with each other outside of our roles as mom and dad.
It’s also an especially happy time for my parents. Both retired, they recently moved out of state and back to their hometown – near the beach! Their happiness plays into our golden age because we get to see them get back to their roots while also starting a new chapter in their lives. Thankfully, our family life is flexible enough that we can visit them on a fairly regular basis. Just this morning, in fact, my husband and I chatted about how blessed our daughters are to have grandparents who are still active, and who enjoy a little bodysurfing now and then.
I realize that won’t always be the case. As history tells us, golden ages don’t usually last. They transition into new eras filled with different kinds of challenges and different kinds of opportunities for happiness. After all, as I approach 40, my parents are approaching 70, and while some may consider 70 to be the new 55, I realize that my role as daughter may soon turn into that of caregiver.
It’s a scenario I saw play out in my childhood home when my parents cared for my grandmother, and it’s one I’m happy to embrace when the time comes. But how to prepare? It’s a question I’ve started asking myself since my parents moved. Do I badger them about finding local doctors? Encourage them to get involved with their local community center, church, or neighborhood organization so that they feel connected rather than isolated? I don’t, after all, want the possibility of future health issues to eclipse today’s golden age.
But, as statistics will tell you, it’s an impending likelihood that I can’t just sweep under the rug for another day’s cleanup. According to the AARP, “30 million households are caring for an adult over the age of 50 – and that number is expected to double over the next 25 years.” At least I know I won’t be alone among my peers should I find myself taking on greater and greater caregiver responsibilities.
After doing a little digging, I found the AARP’s “Prepare to Care” guide to be the most comprehensive resource on the subject of preparing to care for my parents. It gets bonus points for turning something that could easily seem overwhelming into something that instead seems doable with the right preparation and open lines of communication. The guide breaks down prep steps into five main categories – preparing to talk, forming your team, assessing your parents’ needs, making a plan, and taking action. Completing all five may take me a full year, but they at least give me an actionable outline to follow – one that hopefully will resonate with my parents and their desire to make their golden age of retirement last as long as possible.