Back in high school, you probably noticed that taking your new love home to meet your parents was a nerve-wracking experience. Mom and Dad were expected to embarrass you in one way or another, but you've gotten through the embarrassment because you had to.
Now, fast forward a few decades. Who knew you were going to face the same situation all over again? This time, though, you and your parents are both a lot older, yet the complexities have somehow increased when introducing mom and dad to new people—especially a new love interest.
Your parents may have dementia and lost their filter and all the sense of social grace. They can be argumentative and controlling and require 100% of your time and attention. Many seniors struggle to consider change, so thinking about you, their primary caregiver, pursuing other interests and relationships can be a profoundly disturbing possibility. To preserve the status quo, they might remind you of your past failed relationships and warn you to leave well enough alone at your age. The list of problems that caregivers face while attempting to re-enter the dating scene goes on and on.
In addition to your parents' protests, your time is so scarce that you can hardly press your doctor's appointments into your schedule or enjoy a nice bath without interruption. Under these conditions, how does one date? And if you're good at finding someone extraordinary, how do you find the time and energy to sustain a new relationship while caring for your parents and avoiding their anger? A few essential tips can help you plan mentally for this undertaking.
I rarely connect elder care to child care because I find the comparison demeaning to seniors, but there are moments when it's almost inevitable. Unfortunately, it is just one of those moments. I can't help but compare this kind of introduction to how a single mother with small children can approach dating. Many women opt not to introduce new spouses to their children until there is some evidence that the partnership is secure and that there is a possibility of long-term success. Children are insecure and dependent on their parents for love and care, so bringing a new individual into the family creates a severe change of dynamics.
Likewise, your elderly parents are at a vulnerable point in their lives where they depend heavily on you. They could quickly leap to the conclusion that you won't have time for them if you start concentrating on your love life. I will therefore advise the caregivers to refrain from taking home any date they go on. Instead, invest some time to get to know a potential partner before taking the plunge with the introduction of a whole family.
After a few dates, if you believe it's time for your new boyfriend or girlfriend to meet your friends, see if they're able to hear about your parents' conditions and what their treatment means. Ideally, you'll have briefly discussed some of this on your first few dates as you've come to know each other.
Is Alzheimer's condition or another form of dementia a cause, for example? Talk to your new beauty about some of the peculiar signs that dementia causes, share some details about the disease with them. It doesn't matter if caring isn't an uplifting topic that's easy to address. If the person you are dating displays little interest in your life as a caregiver, or does not attempt to understand your condition, consider it a red flag. Carefulness is a big part of your life, and this position should be valued by someone who cares about you.
At the same time, don't suppose this new person to "get it" in your life right away. Even if they had the experience of caring for themselves, individual circumstances are very different. Yours may be too complex or too intense for anyone outside to understand after only a few conversations ultimately. For example, dealing with a parent who has lost all social inhibition and sometimes makes incredibly offensive remarks is hard enough for you to cope with, and you've probably had a lot of time to rehearse and build up a thick skin. You can't trust your new love to take this and other difficult habits along the way. But as long as they can learn and love you as you grow up together, you might have found a winner. Give them time to learn about the ropes.
You are, well, a loving person as a caregiver. However, on your plate, you have much more obligations than the average citizen. If you've embarked on this journey out of love or a sense of obligation, you've played a challenging task at a great personal expense. Either way, you may feel that from now on with a life of your own is selfish. It isn't. You are a human being who needs the love and care of a life partner if that's what you want.
Once again, when a caregiver starts to concentrate on his own life and happiness, it is true that everyone involved has to make changes. If you're looking to enjoy more free time to date and take part in self-care, you'll possibly need to arrange respite care with outside services, such as a home care company or an adult daycare center. It will be a significant change for your parent(s), but you deserve it, and you shouldn't feel guilty.
Of course, your parents are likely to be concerned about this change in your goals. Be sure to let them know that you're not giving them up. Explain that your object is to live a better, happier, and more balanced life. Dating might be a step in that direction. But don't make commitments that you can't keep, including never considering senior housing as a way to take care of them. Even if all goes well and you meet a partner that you love and want to invest your life with, you'll need time and space to develop a relationship with that person. In the meantime, the needs of your parents will only grow as they get older. Therefore, it is important to be rational and forward-looking about your intentions and future consequences. If your parents are still sound and want the best for you, they should help you in this effort.
Know that your parents might try to make you feel bad about your decision to start dating again. If this happens, consider detaching yourself in a caring way. Seniors who fear change can become controlling and overwhelmingly negative. You have to remember that you're not responsible for their feelings. Reaffirm your love and loyalty to them, but be mindful that they can purposely push your buttons to keep you from pursuing your plan.
Unlike small children, your parents will test the water to see whether a tantrum can prevent you from making any changes in your lifetime. Don't buy in here. Ensure that they are well cared for in your absence, and then enjoy spending time meeting new people and finding a new relationship. Being a caregiver does not erase your personal needs and does not take precedence over your happiness. You deserve to feel as cherished and fulfilled as any other human being. If dating is something you want to do, don't make a mistake yourself. It's not going to be simple, but you owe it to yourself to pursue the love, encouragement, and companionship you deserve.