Should we give up expecting perfection?
“Is it culture or our psychological make-up that causes our stress and regret? Do we, perhaps, place unrealistic expectations on ourselves– especially when we feel responsibility for aging parents?”
These are the questions posed to Dr. Bud (hover over Senior Advisors tab above) after writing last Tuesday’s post. Thoughtfully explaining some of the emotional obstacles that can block even the most devoted adult children’s quest for perfection, he begins:
1. “Caregivers can’t expect perfection…perfection isn’t the major issue. They may hit a home run doing an optimal job and still not be appreciated…They can try to make it as good as they can–but it’s difficult (especially early on when parents need help) to comprehend how parents feel. Adult children can expect something to be helpful, when it may not be. Also sometimes parents are hard to help–they can frustrate us….. then we don’t do our best–or we avoid–because of the ambivalence we’re feeling.”
2. “Our motivation may be a desire to make up for things we didn’t do and should have done”–internal guilty feelings.
3. Or it may involve a reassessment: “The thought of losing a parent can make us want to back up and redo.”
4. “As caregivers, we expect success–we expect our actions will result in a more comfortable end-of-life experience. But we may think it’s not turning out that way.” Why? “Because there’s an expectation that what we’re doing is going to be received with gratitude and that’s not always the case.” Disappointment isn’t failure.
5. “There can be resentment and disappointment with–or shown by–siblings,” which interferes with our doing things the way we would like. “Discussing allocation of responsibilities with siblings early on can be tricky (the one who lives closest feels “put upon,” for example). Getting it out on the table before-hand is a good idea and can relieve stress later on.”
6. Be aware of unrealistic expectations: We can’t expect everything to go the way we think it should–or expect other family members to do things the way we think they should. Good communication among family members plays a large role in alleviating stress and regret.
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When it comes to caregiving, understanding reasons for our actions and our parents’ stage in the life cycle helps us realize what we can try to control. With the rest, we do our best–or we can seek help and/or support from mental health professionals (social workers who specialize in family counseling, psychologists, psychiatrists) or our clergy.
Striving for perfection may be our preferred way of addressing things (not right or wrong way, but preferred way). While parents are relatively healthy and living independently–and we, literally, aren’t caregivers–we can feel we’ve done it right– even to perfection– as we try to help them age well. Yet we do live in an imperfect world. That causes stress.
When I mentioned the deliberate imperfection in the traditional beaded Indian necklace, I was reminded that Persian rugs also contain one purposely-woven-in, odd-colored strand. Some cultures recognize humans aren’t perfect. Something to think about.
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