Dealing with Senior Parents

There’s nothing like clearing your head by going skiing in the Colorado Mountains. It’s rejuvenating. Having had time to think, I’ve come to some conclusions about dealing with aging parents.

First, they’re often stubborn because that’s how they assert control over their lives. I’ve seen my mom do this again and again. She helped raise her four sisters, raised her own four children, and ran the house. Of course she’s used to being in charge. Now she’s in my house, where we have different “rules,” expectations, rhythms, and lifestyles. She’s no longer in charge, no longer in control. Understanding this, I’m trying to walk away when she digs her heels in on an issue and talk to her later about it. That tactic seems to work better than trying to make a logical case for why she should drink more water, get a massage or not watch so much TV.

Second, I’m learning to read her body language. I would get frustrated before because I thought she wasn’t listening or paying attention. I finally came to the realization that she simply couldn’t hear me.  When this is the case, there’s no eye contract, no head nodding. Nothing. So what I do now is make a point to speak more deliberately to her when it’s something I need for her to hear. A tap on the hand, standing in front of her to get her attention, whatever it takes. Pretty simple stuff, really. (Now that’s no guarantee that she’ll actually remember what I said, but, hey, one step at a time.)

And the third thing I’m learning is to let her do more. Before I wanted to take care of everything, which I now realize is the worst thing you can do. (See number one above about loss of control. Duh.) She now cleans up after meals, folds all the laundry (my clothes actually look like they’ve been ironed when she does them), takes the dogs out, chops veggies for dinner, sets the table … You get the picture. It makes her feel useful instead of shut out. And quite frankly, it takes a little bit of pressure off me.

Living with a parent takes a lot out of you emotionally. But these little “aha” moments can help save a lot of stress. Now if I can get her to vacuum and clean the toilets, that wouldn’t be so bad.

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