9 behaviours to try if you want to stay close to your ageing parents (and don’t underestimate the power of #4)

It's not just obligation that should keep you close

grandparents walking with their children and grandchildren
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Keeping a close bond with your parents as they age is beneficial to everyone but isn't always easy - relationship experts suggest honing these nine behaviours to keep your relationship strong.

There are so many reasons to maintain a healthy relationship with your parents as they get older. A strong parent and grandchild bond has many proven benefits, including kids close to their grandparents displaying fewer emotional and behavioural problems. If you're part of the group of parents trapped into living near grandparents because you need help with childcare, maintaining your relationship with them will be a priority to keep the family functioning happily.

While focus has often fallen on the grandparent rules to follow if the older generations want to keep family relations secure, it's not all down to them to make it work - it should be a collaborative effort. When parents are busy and can feel 'sandwiched' between the needs of their children and giving more thought to the needs of their parents, this period is a difficult adjustment for all involved and relationships can flounder. 

To find out more about keeping relationships with the older generations in your family strong, we spoke to BACP accredited psychotherapist Kamalyn Kaur, and BACP accredited counsellor Jackie Rogers. Jackie tells us "When our parents age, they may become more dependent on us, either through loneliness or disability. This can make us feel more pressured or responsible for their care. It may be that you are unable to help, due to your own commitments such as family, work, or limitations on any health conditions you may have."

However, it is possible to relieve the pressure on your relationship - try reassessing the following nine behaviours to stay close to your parents as they age.

9 behaviours try if you want to stay close to your ageing parents

  1. Communication. Kamalyn tells us "Communicate regularly and openly during calls or visits as this will help you understand their needs, preferences, and any concerns they might have. It will ensure that they feel heard and valued, reducing feelings of isolation and loneliness which many people can experience, especially when getting older.
  2. Empathy. It can be hard when you feel pulled in so many different directions by commitments and the mental load to feel empathy when parents ask you to help them with their online food shop or to carry out other tasks you take for granted. Kamalyn suggests looking at how empathetically you behave, saying "Show empathy and patience by actively listening to your parents, acknowledging how they feeling, and trying to see things from their perspective without rushing them or showing irritation. Showing empathy can strengthen the relationship."
  3. Support. If their struggle to complete tasks is leaving you feeling nettled, try supporting them instead. Kamalyn shares "Support their independence by encouraging them to do tasks they can manage and providing help only when necessary. This is important as maintaining this sense of autonomy will be important for your parent’s dignity and mental health. It will also help to remove some of the pressure away from you which can often be the source of irritation and frustration."
  4. Make your time together count. If you're only spending time with your parents to take them to doctors appointments and other fairly mundane tasks, you'll have negative associations about your time together. Kamalyn suggests "Engage in activities together such as cooking, gardening, playing games, going for walks, or family days out. Sharing activities helps strengthen the bond and create positive memories which you all can cherish in the years to come."
  5. Plan for the future. Although these conversations can seem challenging, you might find you feel so much better when they're out in the open. Kamalyn shares "Plan for the future together by having conversations about medical care, legal document likes wills and power of attorney, or exploring living arrangements that would be comfortable for them as they age. Having these conversations ensures that everyone is on the same page and reduces uncertainty and stress for both parties involved."
  6. Understand your limitations. Some amount of self-reflection will go a long way in maintaining a healthy relationship, and this can help you define your limitations and plan alternative measures to keep your parents cared for and your sanity intact. Jackie tells us "Once you know your limitations, explain this to your parents and explore other solutions with them, e.g. asking support from other family members, friends, neighbours or outside agencies. Listen to any concerns they may have and help them feel heard and validated. Depending on your relationship with your parents, when you are not with them, are you able to call them or send a random text to tell them you are thinking of them?"
  7. Set some boundaries. Don't underestimate how having boundaries in place can be a game-changer when it comes to relationships. Jackie says "Boundaries - be kind but firm. There is nothing wrong with having healthy boundaries in place and being able to say ‘no’ on occasions. We cannot be available 24 hours a day. Kindness is not always about saying ‘yes’ to everything. Having boundaries can stop us becoming resentful or 'burning out.'"
  8. Be patient. Jackie adds "Patience is the key. Getting old is not easy for any of us. Parents may be reluctant to ask for outside help or even admit that they need extra support. Being able to keep calm, compassionate, patient and not critical, may be hard but is essential."
  9. Look after yourself. Jackie concludes "Worrying about our parents can be emotionally draining, therefore it is imperative you make time for you, do the things you enjoy doing, spending time with people who help you feel calm and do not be afraid to ask for support when and if needed, be it in a practical or emotional way. None of us are super human." 

For more on grandparents, one grandmother's tip for spending more time with her grandchildren left the internet divided, while another distraught grandmother asked online for help with grandchildren favouring their other grandparents. At the other end of the scale, some grandparents find today's kids more rude than ever before, and we look at possible reasons why. 

Kamalyn Kaur
Kamalyn Kaur

Kamalyn Kaur is a BACP accredited psychotherapist and anxiety expert who helps women overcome anxiety so they can feel in control and live the life they want.

Jackie Rogers
Jackie Rogers

Jackie Rogers is a BACP accredited counsellor who works with adults and children on many issues including trauma, bereavements, anxiety, and depression.

Lucy Wigley
Parenting writer - contributing

Lucy is a mum-of-two, multi-award nominated writer and blogger with six years’ of experience writing about parenting, family life, and TV. Lucy has contributed content to PopSugar and moms.com. In the last three years, she has transformed her passion for streaming countless hours of television into specialising in entertainment writing. There is now nothing she loves more than watching the best shows on television and sharing why you - and your kids - should watch them.