1. ‘Be aware of all the knock-on effects that taking on a caring role can have,’ says psychotherapist Sherilyn Thompson. Are you getting the support you need from other people? It might not be obvious to the other people in your life, such as your partner or your colleagues, so don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it.
2. ‘Don’t try to chivvy your parents out of the feelings they have,’ says psychotherapist Wendy Bristow. It can be very tempting to get them to ‘buck up’, because it’s frightening for us to see them in distress, but they may need to express their own fear, anger or anxiety.
3. ‘Honour the feelings that you have,’ says Thompson, even if they’re feelings of anger or resentment towards your parents. ‘It’s natural to feel all of these things, but sometimes when people experience them, it adds to the guilt. It’s not about reacting to these feelings, but being kind to yourself if you do have them – it’s completely normal.’
4. When a crisis hits, it’s a common reaction to go into superwoman mode. ‘It’s a way of shoving down all your feelings,’ says Bristow. But while it’s important that the practical side is dealt with, it’s also important to make the time just to talk to your mum or dad. What you want for them might not be what they want, so if possible, advises Bristow, ‘have a conversation along the lines of: “What do you want from me and how can I help you with this?”.’
5. If you have siblings, talk to them. You can be each others’ support. It’s also a very good idea to think about the responsibilities each of you has towards your parents, and to make sure that no-one feels as if they’re either shouldering all the burden or, conversely, being left out.