As muslims we are raised within our religion, understanding and acknowledging the importance of caring for the elderly, within our own families and within the community at large. We all began our lives in a state of weakness and great need. We depended on our parents to care for and nourish us,and we understand that they made sacrifices in their own lives in order to provide for us and help us become the adults that we are today. In this age of awareness that we now have on things like generational trauma or as we focus on healing ourselves from elements of our childhood that may not have been so nurturing, we can lose sight of the fact that our parents will or perhaps have already, returned to that state of weakness and fragility that we all began with.
Whilst we don’t condone abusive parent / child relationships and we know all too well that many have suffered at the hands of those who should have been caring for them, in most cases, it is better for us to assume that our elders did the best they could with the tools and emotional capacity that they had at the time.
In essence, we as mothers, have our stuff and it’s important to recognise that our parents had their ‘stuff’ too. Each family unit is unique and will have its own set of experiences, good and bad.
We can find ourselves in the midst of our parenting journey where we are torn between caring for the young and the old simultaneously. We need our parents’ help as we navigate raising our own children, but they too, need us.
This following Quranic verse is clear in its message of treating the elderly with love and kindness:
“Your Lord has commanded that you worship none but Him, and that you be kind to your parents. If one or both of them reach old age with you, do not say to them a word of disrespect, or scold them, but say a generous word to them. And act humbly to them in mercy, and say, ‘My Lord, have mercy on them, since they cared for me when I was small” [Qur’an, 17:23-24]
Our parents and elders will continue to age and the regular challenges of daily life can become more and more daunting for them, particularly if they have multiple health or mobility issues. During these years it can be extremely difficult to manage our day to day responsibilities alongside caring for those who are more vulnerable.
The truth is, our elders have weathered many of life’s storms, and have wisdom beyond our years which is absolutely invaluable. They are deserving of our time and companionship but we can also gain so much from simply being there for them. It is a huge blessing to have the opportunity to serve your parents in their old age, but it would be naive to think it would not come without difficulty and without an extreme test of patience.
This topic was highlighted beautifully in our Muslim Mamas Facebook Community when memeber Shelina Janmohamed opened this pertinent discussion. Sharing with permission she said;
What are everyone’s learnings, top tips and wisdoms to share about looking after our older elderly, the ones who need physical, emotional and mental health support?
There are many of us looking after increasingly elderly and frail parents, in-laws and relatives, or who have cared for them and they are no longer with us. Allah forgive them and grant them a place near Him in jannah Ameen.
Hopefully this post and the discussion to share learnings can become a form of sadaqah jariyah for them.
Let’s share things we’ve learnt that may help others – this could be practical tips on managing their physical, emotional, religious and mental health care needs; it could be how to manage your own feelings and behaviours and to serve them. It could be motivations or approaches, or just something small you did which suddenly made everything feel easier and better.
To get us started, here are some things that I learnt and which helped me give perspective on my own approach to caring:
- How you make the elderly feel when you care for them is completely paramount. They may not remember all the physical work you do, but no matter what their mental capacity – whether fully compos mentis or having lost their abilities – they will always remember how you made them feel. This is Allah’s amazing gift to human beings that love touches people no matter what.
- If you keep being asked the same thing, answer it as though it’s the first time you’ve been asked. For the elderly person asking, they probably do think it’s the first time. What’s there to lose if you pretend the same?
- If they are physically able, try to take them for a walk every day, even if it’s short. It stops them from declining. Try to do it out on the road / outdoors somewhere so they can see the world.
- Smile as much as you possibly can, even if it’s hard.
- We should all admit that physical caring is extremely hard. For many of us like me used to office work / public work, caring is an entirely new skill set we have to learn. Please get help and advice on how to do this. Nobody is born knowing how to care for the elderly.
For me, one way I found helped me through the difficulties of the physicality of care work – washing, feeding, tidying etc – is to try and be completely present in every act, and just take it as it comes and be purposeful and intentional. My feeling is that we aren’t always prepared for the physicality of micro-service – actually doing the hard work to deliver Allah’s work.
I want to add one thing that might be controversial. Yes, Allah gives us huge rewards to look after parents and elders, and we pray that we are able / have been able to do even a tiny fraction of our obligations. And yes it is a privilege. But none of that is to take away how hard, draining and exhausting caring for the elderly can be. And so when we advise others, the reminder of the rewards is important, but so is practical help on how to care with love but also without burn out, and while maintaining all the other responsibilities that we have, including our duties to care for ourselves.
That’s why I want to start this thread as a resource for all of us who are caring, and those of us who may have caring ahead of us, and for whom this discussion might help them to prepare for the future.
What are your tips, learnings and advice?
We are so grateful to Shelina for guiding us beautifully through this conversation as we all know how important it is. Many of our Mamas engaged with this post and shared their experiences and advice. We are sharing some of those responses below.
From the community
Don’t assume ageing is a linear process where they’re just an older version of who they’ve always been. Sometimes, you have to get to know them all over again, from a new perspective. They have unfulfilled dreams, they have interests that they might have put aside for decades. Their elderly self can be a new beginning in some small ways – but we won’t know if we don’t reconnect with them and make space for who they are now.
- Us adult children can’t meet all their social needs. They still need the company of their peers. Try to facilitate that for them.
- Take an interest in their youth/childhood/stories, involve grandchildren in this in whatever way
- Keep them mentally active with problem solving (even if you know the solution!). I run ALL my ‘rishta – seeking stuff’ past my mum because I know she loves the topic and it keeps her on her toes for weeks on end, every time there’s a new profile to discuss! They need to feel needed.
- Watch what they enjoy together, cook together if they can even direct you/advise/ whatever level.
- Daily walks if possible / easy garden care – anything outdoors
- Take them out for tea without needing an occasion – even simple, local but it breaks the day up.
- Pray at the same time as them if possible.
- Help them make video calls to friends and relatives (many elderly struggle with the technical side)
- Include them in family discussions. Often I have to ‘bridge’. Adult kids will bring up some topic at dinner time and go on and on about it at a thousand miles per hour. I know my mum hasn’t grasped what they’re talking about. They know from a certain look I give them to break it down and explain it to their nanu and include her in the conversation. They’ve learnt and are getting better at it. (Comment by Suma Din)
Ask them what dish they would like to eat. Spend time with them and talk about the olden days, yes some of the stories are a repeat but react like you have heard it for the first time. Bathe them, brush their hair, wash their clothes etc. There is a blessing in looking after an elderly, only a handful will take this opportunity and will serve them only to please our creator. (Comment Jusna Ahmed)
Be sensitive and mindful of their honour and dignity. They may require help like a child but they have lived through and experienced many years. Try to make it less embarrassing of an ordeal if they have an accident.
Avoid talking about their struggles to others in front of them. (Comment by Kamila Chowdhury)
I think it’s very similar to taking care of our young ones. You can’t pour from an empty cup. Your care towards the elderly will be of better quality if you take time out for yourself and are not burnt out. You could feel resentment towards them when your own needs are not being met. This could mean more family involvement, employing extra help, it could mean putting them in a day care centre a couple of times a week where they can also build connections with other elderly people, it could even mean a few days of respite in a care home. Don’t allow society to guilt you into believing taking time 9ut makes you a selfish person.
Don’t forget who you are as an individual. You are not your responsibilities, you are not just a carer. Keep in touch with your authentic self and don’t lose her in the process. It’s a tough one to come out of when the ones we take care of pass away. You can feel like you have no purpose and this can also lead to future unhealthy relationships.
Be patient with them, as they age their response mechanisms slow down, be patient when feeding them, when clothing them. When wanting an answer or any other response. Give them time to process.
My absolute favourite and one I miss so much is, listening to their stories. Give them space and time to share parts of their lives. Their childhood, their struggles of migration, their family.. actively listen and ask them questions like an intrigued child would. These stories are the most amazing and full of so much wisdom. (Comment by Celina Hanif)
I can identify with everything in this post. Myself and my husband. We keep our mil and she’s quite fragile and has alot of needs and we both know it’s only going to get harder for all of us.
Honestly speaking, my mil can really test my patience (those that know me know that I’m a patient person!) but as soon as she just calls me something sweet or does something funny or cute I just melt. It’s so easy to get annoyed and takes so much energy but learn to let it go, forgive them for their actions or words. It’s much easier to deal with them, take each day as it comes. I wish people could see that parents are so precious. Since I’ve lost both mines whilst they just approached their 60’s, I tell everyone to be present for their parents. (Comment by Shapla Begum)
Sending the grandkids to share some hugs and kisses every so often. Give grandkids little errands to do for their grandparents. Keeping them involved and informed in our lives every step of the way. Asking for Duas from them. Listening to their sorrows or worries. Bringing them their favourite foods. (Comment by Julekha Be)
Make sure you have a support system in place to give you a break. Quality is more important than quantity. Reach out to others close by so you can maybe take turns. For all those who are not in this situation, reach out to those who are and offer your support. Daughters do not leave your elderly parents with your SIL alone, offer them help. Doing this for our mothers is hard enough, imagine doing it for someone who is not your mother and has been a cause of pain in your life at times.
Do not make it hard for the SIL when visiting your parents. Take food, tidy up before you leave, tell them to stick to their plans of going out. Offer to visit so they can spend time with their families or with their husbands. (Comment by Hasna Khanom)
Give patience and love and seek help when burned out, it can be a very demanding responsibility but cherish it whilst you have it. If you are looking after them then Know they are with you because they are comfortable with you take their blessings and enjoy the future
(Comment by Momina Choudhury)
I’ve been a parent carer for over 10 years and I understand the difficulties that people go through when they become carers. I am going to touch on another topic that is hard, which is the impact on caring for yourself. Caring, paid or otherwise has no social status and it is viewed as easy and undemanding. This is a big shock if you have had to leave or change your employment to care – you can find you become invisible. Caring and the world of caring is quite an exclusive and complex world that until you’re in it you have no idea how complex and punishing it is to deal with. Trying to get the right support for your relatives, dealing with GP’s etc, these are skills in themselves and these days support and services have to be fought for and are often inadequate and service can be poor. The carer not only loses their identity as an individual, as a carer you become identified with the person they care for, and this can have a huge impact on the mental health of the carer. There are organisations that provide support around a host of issues and where you live there may be carers support groups. Even if you don’t use these services it’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with them as they can be invaluable. Further make sure you are registered with your GP as a carer as this will give you access to flu vaccinations etc and some GP surgeries do things like carers check ups. Also, you’re not going to like this all the time. You may at times feel angry and resentful. This is all normal and fine. Please be mindful of the parent carers in your community – their caring will never end until they die. (Comment by Sarah Howarth)
We thank everyone who contributed to this thread.
Taking the time to care for our elders can increase their sense of belonging and purpose in this dunya. In this fast paced world that we live in we must remember the importance of extending that love, compassion and care and not just limit it to members of our families, but to neighbours, strangers, and any elderly persons we see.
“Anyone who recognises the high status of old people and respects them, God will save him from experiencing the might and fear of the Resurrection Day.” Imam Jafar al Sadiq (a.s)