THE PROMISE MAKERS and 7 THINGS WE LEARN
(The italicized that follows is copyrighted from my book; may not be reproduced without permission)
J. Donna Sullivan, CSW, counsels adult children: “Never promise not to put your parents into institutional care.” While promises are made with the best of intentions, she says, certain health conditions can arise that make remaining in one’s home unwise, if not impossible.
Many parents have learned that promising never to do something is unwise. Why do adult children fail to follow this wisdom when it comes to their parents? We hear stories about adult children who have promised never to put their parents in a nursing home and ultimately take on more responsibility than they ever dreamed possible, wearing themselves to a frazzle, causing feelings of frustration and resentment. These people may be motivated by love, by a feeling of duty or by guilt.
Some therapists say there may an element of martyrdom. They also question: if the children give up the caregiver role, what will replace it in their life? Other children, however, are glad they were able to care for a loved one, feel it has provided a unique opportunity to be with their parent, and treasure the special relationship they shared. They wouldn’t hesitate to do it again. Meet Mitzi.
Mitzi, an only child, had a close, loving relationship with her mother, who was important in Mitzi’s family’s life throughout Mitzi’s marriage and the children’s growing up. Early on Mitzi made a promise: as long as Mitzi was there, her mother would “never, never go into a nursing home.”
Many years later Mitzi’s widowed mother, in her 80s, developed Parkinson’s. Faithful to her promise, Mitzi hired around-the-clock help; but that didn’t alleviate Mitzi’s feelings of concern and responsibility. Every day, without fail after work, she visited her mother. As the Parkinson’s progressed, Mitzi’s boss, a physician, counseled: “You’re doing yourself and your mother an injustice, keeping her at home.”
Mitzi’s mother, became wheel-chair bound, developed pneumonia. She was hospitalized. As her release from the hospital neared, the medical staff advised Mitzi that her mother would have better help and support in a nursing home. Mitzi planned to take her mother home, then realized that the many stairs in her home “created a physically impossible situation.” A nursing home was the only option.
“With trepidation, fear, resentment etc.,” Mitzi says, she “put” her mother in the home.” To this day, twenty years later, she remembers the details: How her “heart sank” as she watched her mother being wheeled into the nursing home. “I didn’t do it out of choice,” she said, “I did it out of necessity…No choice no one could care for her at home.”
Mitzi did it right in terms of respecting her mother’s wishes and giving her mother the most independence possible for as long as was possible. Had she not made the original promise, she would not be feeling the sense of remorse that remains twenty years later.
WHAT WE LEARN
1. Never promise–based on emotion–something that you may have no control over later–like not putting someone in a nursing home.
2. Pushing ourselves to the limit may not be in anyone’s best interest. Many will “bend over backwards” to do for aging parents–will push to do one more hour, one more day, one more week, one more month–possibly not realizing that at some point exhaustion sets in. Denial may be a factor.
3. Denial is a psychological defense mechanism, that we may not realize is operating. It protects us from having to deal with something until we are emotionally/psychologically ready. Of course it doesn’t change reality.
4. Be prepared–not just for Boy Scouts. Gathering facts so we know our realistic options, before a crisis, prepares us better. We “see the cards on the table,” so to speak.
5. Before a crisis, listening to what clear-thinking parents want and knowing the money involved, and the people who can help–makes sense. Even if discussion doesn’t happen, thinking about these givens can influence effective action.
6. Make the effort to get responsible part-time help so there’s some time off (one or two 1/2 days or one 8-hour day). This may extend the months or years we’re able to help parents.
7. The best gift a far-away-living child can give to a sibling at home doing the caregiving: Coming home now and then to relieve that sibling so (s)he has a vacation or days from time to time.
Many options to help aging parents with increasing health issues exist. We look at the pros and cons, and take our parents’ needs and wishes, and our willpower, devotion, stamina and circumstances into account. We just need to find the best fit for our situation. Usually easier said than done, but it does get done.
New: “Of Current Interest”(right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities about cancer, dementia, Parkinson’s, plus some fun stuff–to help parents age well.