Caring for Our Parents

… a Sandwich Generationer's perspective

Archive for the month “June, 2012”

Do Unto Others

In my last entry I re-blogged a great post from a wonderful blogger.  Kathy does a great job of talking about letting parents make decisions for as long as they can if safety is not a concern.

Of course, you know me well enough by now to realize that, while her ideas are very reasonable, logical and respectful, my own convoluted mind is incapable of just accepting them at face value.  I have to complicate things.

I had to ask myself whether safety is really ‘the line’ before I feel like I need to step in.  Should I let them make all the decisions until their safety is at risk?  What am I comfortable with? For example, am I okay if my mom decides to write a check to the Church for all her money? Technically she would still be safe but she would create a significantly negative situation for herself and others (she’d have to move in with one of us!).  No… definitely not okay with that one…

Yet, when they were both healthy, I often told them both to do whatever they wanted.  They could have decided to do a world tour to all the places they’ve never been to and always hoped to go.  They could have ended up spending all their money doing that.  Would I have been okay with that? I want to say I would have been but I honestly don’t know…

I realize these are extreme examples but you get the point… slippery slope… where is the line?  Does the line change when it’s approached from a positive angle versus a negative one? Is it easier to deal with the negative impact on me if they were having fun versus being sick?  Probably but it still doesn’t seem right to me…

I remembered talking to my counselor a while back about this very topic (see “Let Them Be”).  She challenged me to really think through the implications of what I shared in my blog (or Kathy shared in hers) and where a “healthy line” would be for me.  She pushed me on being assertive based on endless need to always please them, even at my own detriment.  Specially because not only am I not good about prioritizing my needs but neither have my parents.  They have always been… how would I say it?… free spirits?… rule breakers?… done as they pleased?…well, they’ve really always done what they thought was best, with great intentions mind you, but not always slowing down enough to think through the implications of their actions nor listen to the perspective of those impacted by them.  (No, it’s not an auditory problem as much as a processing, denial problem. Although when they’re watching TV you could swear they both needed hearing aids.) But I digress… back to the counselor.  She encouraged me to draw the line at a place that’s a bit ‘safer’ for my own well-being.  Afterall, I started to seek her counsel (read… I was at the end of my rope!) when I continuously found myself picking up their pieces for them.  Yes, I know… I took it upon myself to be the one who always picked up the pieces and I’m trying to work on that too.  (see “…but I have to make sure they are happy!”).  But this is exactly why placing this provervial ‘line’ in the right place is not as simple as it first seems (is anything ever really that simple?).

Personally, I’ve arrived at what works for me.  Since my parents (as a unit) are still competent and capable and they are not willing to have anyone else make decisions for them, I’m on-board with letting them be decision-makers as long as their safety is not at risk.  Once I feel we’ve reached that point, I will step in and take over.  Nevertheless, I too have a decision to make.  As long as they are the decision-makers, I will not be their ‘solution’.  Whenever I get the dreaded call or email saying it’s time for cleanup, I will reinforce how much I love them and wish them all the best in their cleanup process.

A year ago, I would have said that I would always be there for them, in whatever way they wanted or needed.  Today, I admit I’m a bit more discerning (cautious?) and I’m getting better at saying ‘No’.

The trick is to respect their dignity as they age, while not losing mine as I age.


Here’s a great blog regarding decision making. Very true words of wisdom. Thanks Kathy!

On The Journey With Coach Kathy

I often write about the things that we can do to help our parents manage the changes in their care needs.  There are always many things that can be recommended to ease some of the challenges that a senior might face and we should surely be on the lookout for any signs that somebody may be failing on their own.

But one thing that I feel equally strongly about and need to express is the right of all seniors to self-determination.

Though I may have lots of ideas about how I think things should be done and how best to do them, as long as my parent is able to still make decisions, I must allow them to do so.  I have said before about safety being one of the measures for how forcefully to intervene.  But baring dire safety issues, Mom and Dad still get to choose.

They still…

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The Art of Calling

My brothers and I often discuss how phone conversations with my parents are becoming more and more superficial, to the point that they could almost be scripted.  After a nice “hello”, one must quickly transition to the weather.  This topic could be covered in a couple seconds or go on for a few minutes, depending on the mood from both parties. The phone is then passed from my father (who always answers the phone) to my mother (who has people to do that for her) where the conversation starts all over again. There can be no acknowledgement of the conversation with my father. This would raise significant tension and be interpreted as an overt statement of preference towards him. The words, tone and emotionality when speaking to my mother must be the same as just discussed with my father or there will be consequences.  After the weather discussion, the conversation evolves with the ‘how are things going with you?’ question.  At which point, I am unable to share any significant or meaningful information with them about my life because, if I do, one of three responses will occur, each of which would be regreatable:

1. The ‘we are not really listening to you’ response:  (Most frequent response)

Me: “Well, we broke ground on the house and they are about to lay the foundation!”

Them: “How are the kids?”

2. The ‘I’m bored so I will find a problem to solve’:  (Most annoying response)

Me: “Well, we broke ground on the house and they are about to lay the foundation!”

Them: “Do you guys need money?”

Me: “No, we don’t need money, we are fine.”

Them: “You can’t be fine, you’re building a house, you must need money”

3. The ‘I’m going to contradict you no matter what’ response:  (Most ennerving yet humorous response)

Me: “I have good news, I won the lottery!”

Them: “Well that’s not good news – now is when all the problems begin… just wait and see.  I’ve seen this a thousand times.”


Me: “I have bad news, I have a rare tropical disease and I have 4 hours to live.”

Them: “Oh, don’t be so dramatic… I have no doubt all you have to do is put some ointment on the rash and it’ll get better.  Listen to me, I know these things. Worst case, the doctors do surgery and you’ll be home in 3 days tops.  I should talk to your doctor, I’ll tell them how Joey had the same problem and his doctor was able to fix it right up.”

Therefore, when the question arises, my response is consistently: “Not much going on here, same old boring life… kids are growing up, husband is working hard and dog is as cute as ever. You?” This is how I stay sane. They then respond with a similar statement.

Historically, at this point the conversation found itself at a critical juncture.  If both parties were satisfied, there would be a pleasant “goodbye” and “talk to you soon” promise.  But sometimes I would make the mistake of probing further with “have you seen so and so? Any news from such and such?”. Then I would get to hear all about how awful so and so is or how such and such hasn’t called nor wants to spend any time with them. This would set off a spiral that always ends with my mother getting grumpy and bringing up the latest thing she swears my father didn’t tell her, such as “Of course, if I had known that so and so had the baby I could have gotten her a gift but no one tells me anything around here. Your father keeps everything from me”.

Needless to say, probing is no longer an option unless I register significant positive energy and high spirits from my mother.  Even then, I enter this area with significant caution and hesitation.

So, when my brother tells me that conversations with my parents are superficial and boring, I think, “I wouldn’t have it any other way!”

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