Key to Graceful Aging
By Carol Abaya, M.A.
Question: My mother,
73, just came to live with us (myself, husband, and 2 teenagers). We’re
all having trouble adjusting, even though the relationship up to now has
always been good. How can we maintain a good relationship?
difficult adjusting to having someone else move in. The following are
TIPS from one of my readers.
- set behavior parameters
and expectations for everyone
- keep communications
- encourage everyone
to verbally express their feelings
- share chores;
everyone has responsibilities
- make everyone
feel part of “the family”
- give lots of love;
even if it has to be “tough love”
- laugh often; joke
- cry well
- give yourself
permission to be angry
- take time for
yourself every day
- believe in a higher
being who gives us an inner strength
- Role Reversal/Tips
Question: My father,
82, is getting frailer, yet is fighting getting old. He won’t listen
to any of us (have 3 siblings) and we don’t know what to do. He’s basically
healthy and can take care of his own personal needs.
the following sound familiar? “I don’t want to do that! You can’t make
me!” I’m driving to the mall! I don’t care what you say!” As darkness
falls, off he goes.
Sound like a conversation
with one of your children? It might well be. But these are common conversations
between an adult child and his or her aging parent.
Being a sandwich generationer
is what I call, a new role on the stage of life for which one can never
rehearse. It’s tough for the aging as they gradually or suddenly lose
their independence and control over their own life. It is also a tough
-- and very touchy -- situation for the adult children.
You can get angry,
yell at, and even ground your children if they misbehave or do things
that are not appropriate. And society says it’s o.k. After all, you
are the boss!
But what happens when
it’s your 70 or 80 year old parent who refuses to listen to you? Who
has chest pains and refuses to go to the doctor? Or has difficulty seeing
and reacting to outside stimuli, but continues to drive?
Because this is the
first generation of very elderly, there are no societal guidelines as
to what a sandwich generationer should do -- and not do.
There is no magic
wand to elder care. I learned the hard way. Every situation is different
because the people involved and every parental/child relationship is different.
So no one can say “Do this” and that will solve your problem.
In your case, you
need to accept the fact your father is an adult and entitled to make poor
decisions - as long as his safety, health and overall well-being are not
So, it depends on
what he is doing that you disapprove of - or not doing in relation to
financial (POA’s) and medical protection ( a Living Will).
Basic oversight TIPS
as a person moves from the young-old to old-old phase of life include:
- Acknowledge the
problems and identify real needs. Provide help only in true needs
elements early on.
- Identify medical
and dietary needs and get/provide appropriate help.
- Identify options
for care and the pros and cons of each.
- Get Help! THE
most important thing! From family and community resources. You can’t
and shouldn’t do it all yourself! No one is superhuman!
- Do happy things
for and with your parent. Celebrate everything possible, with a card,
flowers, pizza, a small family gathering. When they’re gone, it’s carved
- Accept the fact
that your parent may never “get well.” It’s difficult, but you shouldn’t
get into a position where you feel guilty about your parent’s bad health
and deteriorating condition. This is life! Unfair, yes...but…
- If you are the
caregiver, make time for yourself on a regular basis. Do something
you thoroughly enjoy. Take care of yourself before all others because
no one else can or will.
- Maintain a sense
of humor. Finding something quirky in a situation lightens everyone’s
Question: My mother,
78, has recently come to live with us. We’ve always had a solid relationship,
but now seem to constantly snipe at each other. Neither one of us is
happy. Some guidance will be appreciated.
are connections between two people. Think of a rope. It may be smooth
with no bumps or knots. It may have a few knots. Or a lot of them.
What is important is how people deal with ROPES. ROPES can make a distinct
difference in the relationship between a Sandwich Generationer and aging
parent in both directions.
R = respect
O = openness
P = participate and pass
E = education
S = sensitive (to feelings and thought)
Following a ROPES
line of thinking and behavior can lead to positive and productive dialogues,
improving the basic relationship, reducing stress along the ROPE, and
improving quality of life for everyone.
Question: My father,
now 81, was a corporate executive and then worked as a consultant until
a few years ago. Now he’s trying to manipulate my brother and myself
(the eldest son) and plays one of us against the other. It has caused
a great deal of tension between all of us. Help needed.
While this may not
be a complete answer, I’ll share some words of wisdom from a long time
reader of The Sandwich Generation magazine.
Use the A-B-C acronym
- which, by the way, can be used for any situation. The reader who sent
it to me said, “Among my earliest memories are the times our Mom impressed
my two sisters and me by converting to “A-B-C Order” whatever message
she wanted us to remember. As we were trusted to cross the street alone,
we chanted A-B-C: Always Be Careful. Applying the alphabetical order
tactic, we went on to devise our own magic codes to serve whatever need
Now the Rule of A-B-C
Order comes into play as we consider the matter of aging and change.
Think of change as a form of conflict and follow the rules that apply
to conflict resolution.
Address the situation. Are you dealing with reality? Sometimes it’s
hard to let go of the dream.
Beware of emotional interference. It’s not about being right or
wrong. It’s not about being happy or sad. It’s about how you feel, what
you want or don’t want.
your options. You can’t change the past. You can’t unsay what’s been
said or undo what’s been done. You can only choose to move forward in
dealing with change. Know your limits. Set your boundaries. Take control.
You’ve already done
the “A” by acknowledging the problem. The “B” could be “Be open in communicating
your concerns with your father.” Let him know you’re on to him. And
the “C’ would be “change your father’s ability to manipulate.”
You are all adults
and need to deal with this accordingly. Your father will have to adjust
his behavior, and you should keep a diary. If things get really bad,
you’ll be able to develop a time-line of behavior.
At any rate, you can
develop your own A-B-C formula.
Question: My mother
lives five miles from us, and since my father passed away six months ago,
I’ve been grocery shopping for her. I call her beforehand, get her list,
shop, and then drop off her groceries, usually on the run. Inevitably
when I get back home, I get a call that she forgot something and she must
have it today. I’m too tired to keep running back and forth, but feel
guilty when I don’t. Help!
of all, why are you doing the shopping? Who did it before your
father died? Even if she can’t drive, can she shop herself? If she can
shop, look for an alternative driver - a friend, relative, or hire someone.
Have a local store deliver. You don’t have to do it all yourself.
Secondly, if she can’t
shop herself, make sure she always has extra basics. Bread and juice
can be frozen. Powdered milk can be used if necessary. If something
else has been used up, the end of the world won’t occur if she doesn’t
have an item for a day or even two. So, stop running.
often - and needlessly - “talk” themselves into “guilt trips” and traps.
I must be perfect;
please others; always be right; be in control; help others. I can’t stand
it when people are angry with me. Unhealthy guilt comes from trying to
live up to or by someone else’s standards or demands.
Elwood N. Chapman
in his book “The Unfinished Business of Living: Helping Aging Parents
Help Themselves,” says, “View yourself as an assistant to the elderly
individual. This may help you remember that the more you help them help
themselves, the better it will be for them and the less pressure on you.
“Immunize your emotions.
Some domineering and highly critical parents are more demanding with their
words than their hearts. Most do not expect things to change in their
favor -- they just need to complain because the world did not live up
to their expectations. Seek the underlying message and let unfounded
complaints roll off your shoulder.”
Embrace the tough
love approach. “Tough love” is a genuine form of love. It means you
can get tough (stand up for yourself) yet continue to love the other
party as before.
Protect your other
relationships. Sometimes an adult child will become so intimidated and
engrossed in a parent relationship that he or she will make the mistake
of ignoring other relationships which may be more important.
Step back and identify
those tasks she really can’t do for herself. Give her or get help for
just those activities. By taking over chores an older person can really
do for self, you’re making that person more dependent on you. You’re
also taking away that person’s feeling of self-worth.
This material is
copyrighted by Carol Abaya Associates and cannot be reproduced in any
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