While you were in high school, you likely found that bringing your new love home to meet your parents was a nerve wracking experience. Your parents were dorky (or whatever the word for parents was at that time). Your dad would give the guy an evil eye. Your mom would fuss and act weird. But you got through it because you needed to.
Who knew that you'd be doing the same thing all over again? Only now, you are middle aged or older and your parent or parents have dementia. They are argumentative and controlling. It seems like they want all of your time. They hate change. They will remind you that you "failed at marriage before" and that you should leave well enough alone at your age. The list goes on…
As if that weren't enough, your time is so limited that you can hardly squeeze in a nice bath without interruption. How are you going to date under these circumstances? And how do you cope with the guilt you feel about shortchanging everyone because of your lack of time?
Introducing Your Date to Your Aging Parents
When I look at this first step, I relate it to a young mother with kids. I rarely compare elder care to child care, because I find that comparison demeaning to the elder, but there are times when it's nearly unavoidable. This is one of those times. Because your parents may be at a time and place in their lives where they are vulnerable, and could easily jump to the conclusion that your will not have time for them if you find romantic love in your life, I'd advise you don't bring home every "perhaps" date you go on. If your friend sets you up with a date, go ahead, but give it time before you take the plunge with a whole family introduction.
Educate Your Date
If you do feel, after a number of dates, that it's time for your new love to meet your parents, and perhaps learn to understand the constraints caregiving puts on your life, then see if that person is willing to become educated about your parents' illness. Is Alzheimer's a factor? Get some information about the disease from your local Alzheimer's organization and ask him or her to read it. If the person you are dating will not make any effort to understand your situation, or that of your parents, consider this a red flag. Caregiving is a huge part of your life. "Caregiver" is one of your job titles. This role should be respected by someone who cares about you.
Expect a Lack of Knowledge
Don't expect this person to "get it" right away. Your situation may be way too complicated for someone to pick up on in one session. Handling a situation with someone who has lost all social inhibition and may say something extremely rude is hard enough for people who expect this and have learned to cope. We can't expect our new love to get it right off. If the person is willing to learn and support you as you grow together, you may have a winner, so give him or her time to learn the ropes.
You Deserve a Life of Your Own
As a caregiver, you are, well, caring. You have responsibilities. You probably love your care receiver (though some people just do it out of feeling of duty). Either way, you may feel that moving forward with a life of your own is selfish. It's not. You are a human being who deserves love and care from a mate, if that is your choice.
Adjustments will have to be made by all. That may mean your care receiver will need some in-home help or other types of help so you can give some of your time to your new relationship. You deserve this and need not feel guilty.
Make sure the care receivers have good help while you are dating. Take care to let them know that you aren't abandoning them. Let them know that you are just trying to live a healthy, balanced life and dating can be part of that balance.
Drop the Guilt
Don't feel guilty. Know that your care receiver may try to make you feel guilty. When this happens, try detaching in a loving manner. They may be afraid of change, so they can become controlling. Your job is to understand that you aren't responsible for their feelings. Reaffirm your love and commitment to them, but be aware that they may deliberately use the triggers they know will make you feel guilty.
Not unlike two year olds, your care receivers may test the waters to see if a tantrum will keep you from making any changes in your life. Don't buy into it. Make sure the care receiver is well cared for in your absence and then enjoy having some life of your own. Being a caregiver doesn't eliminate your personal needs. You deserve to have your needs met as much as any other human being. View dating as part of your own good health, which, in the longer run, only comes back to better benefit those you are caring for.