Q&A: #106

Communications: 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?

Answer: It’s 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 open
  • 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”  


Further Advice:

  • laugh often; joke about yourself
  • 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.

Answer:  Does 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 negatively impacted.

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:

  1. Acknowledge the problems and identify real needs.  Provide help only in  true needs elements  early on.
  2. Identify medical and dietary needs and get/provide appropriate help.
  3. Identify options for care and the pros and cons of each.
  4. 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!
  5. 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 in stone.
  6. 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…
  7. 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.
  8. Maintain a sense of humor. Finding something quirky in a situation lightens everyone’s mood.

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.

Answer:  Relationships 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 and ouch
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 we found.”

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.  
ddress 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. 
Consider 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!

Answer:  First 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.

Sandwich Generationers often - and needlessly - “talk” themselves into “guilt trips” and traps.  It’s easy!

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.

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