Dealing Successfully With Difficult, Demanding Aging Parents
……continued from part 1 (which details important concepts leading to strategies))
Meet Jean: an over-stressed daughter and stay-at-home mom in her 50’s. (Name changed; situation, sadly, isn’t unique– seemed like it couldn’t change.)
She’s married, with two school-age children, two brothers–and an aging mother and father who “run her ragged” and show no appreciation. Her brothers work in downtown offices thus, are unavailable on weekdays; so parents “know” the boys are “off limits” (although they do help out on weekends when asked).
Being a good daughter, on a weekly basis Jean has transported these parents (who drive but sometimes “don’t feel like it”); cleaned (they’ve managed to fire every cleaning person); and she spends countless hours on the phone with them (they phone daily–at the least). Jean cooks and delivers meals–or invites them to dinner–when they don’t feel like cooking; takes them to doctors’ appointments; and lays out and explains their medications (which they don’t always take).
She’s at their beck and call, wearing herself to a frazzle as she dashes between Little League, swim meets, music lessons, grocery shopping, house cleaning, dinner fixing etc. etc. Her husband, most patient and caring, is showing a bit of resentment. He envisions this situation going on forever.
O.K. You get it. Jean’s parents had always been catered to. They expected it; she complied. Her brothers were accustomed to their roles also. Family relationships can be like a game with each player continuing his or her strategy when together. Normally as people age, family members renegotiate the rules of the game. That keeps the family’s relationships in balance. (If the family was never in balance–it’s a different story.)
Concepts #1 existed. Concept #3 resonated with Jean and led to Jean’s changing the game rules. Sharing her situation with one of our Senior Advisors over a period of time, our Senior Advisor’s response to her was key: “You’re not in good spirits any more, you’re not happy. You have a husband and a family. I know you’ve said you’d feel guilty not doing for your parents like you’ve been doing. But when you’re not respected, you don’t have to feel guilt.”
Hearing this from a respected older person whose wisdom Jean valued was affirming. It was also the equivalent of supportive ammunition. Jean “got it.” She has begun to change the balance as follows:
She’s slowly disengaging. She’s playing the game differently. She doesn’t jump to fulfill her parents’ wishes. She no longer is available at every request to drive them; she doesn’t end a phone conversation with friends when her parents call on the other line. While she still does for them, she’s not at their beck and call.
The result: Concept #4, The “Family is Like a Mobile,” has come into play. Her mother didn’t fire the last cleaning person, in fact she’s enjoying having the cleaning person around, according to Jean. And her brothers and sister-in-law have now taken over some of the errands Jean used to do. They no doubt didn’t realize how much their parents demanded of Jean. (Often the major caregiver-child doesn’t make siblings aware of his/her stress.)
When Jean gave up some of her formerly must-do responsibilities, her aging parents readjusted, bringing in others to maintain the balance.
* * * * *
People’s personalities don’t change much (short of trauma or therapy) and things will probably never be perfect; yet Jean is relieved of guilt, some responsibilities, and has enough time for herself and for her family. Meanwhile her parents have learned that they can no longer depend on her so heavily but can take the initiative to make their lives work. Doesn’t this help parents age well? (And provide some relief for their caring children.)
With many thanks to Rick for permitting me to use these photos of his mobiles. Visit his website,
to view more of his exciting work
Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to information and research from top universities and respected professionals–plus timely tips–to help parents age well.