Do your elderly parents seem unhappy? Does the thought of dealing with them leave you exasperated? You’re not alone. A coaching session with a client and a conversation with a friend, have both recently come to the same conclusion.
“She just miserable,” the client and the friend have said of their respective mothers. Both women were upset their relationships with their mothers weren’t stronger.
They said that their elderly mothers complain their daughters aren’t doing enough for them, are too busy to spend time with them, and aren’t in touch with them often enough. The daughters on the other hand are left feeling worn out and ragged; the last thing they want to do is spend more time with their moms.
These two women aren’t the only ones who are stuck in the sandwich generation, trying to take care of elderly parents and their own families at the same time. What’s needed is a plan to overcome these challenges. Hopefully, some of these ideas will help others who are in a similar situation:
QTIP – Quit Taking It Personally. Mom may be complaining that you don’t spend enough time with her but what is she not saying? Maybe she is lonely, maybe she is afraid she will die and nobody will even notice for weeks, maybe she is fearful of losing her independence, maybe she can’t get around or see/hear as well and so she is getting out much less frequently, maybe she is afraid she is ‘losing it?’ Try to see all this from a different perspective by taking yourself out of the situation, by not getting defensive, and by imagining (or asking) what she is really feeling. This can help address the real issue at hand.
Put the Elephant on the Table – Instead of pussyfooting around, schedule a time to have a real conversation. It may start like this, “Mom, I have been noticing that we are often getting in to arguments when I come over.” Or, “Mom I would really like to put some effort in to making our relationship even better.” It might not be easy, fun or simple, but I bet it will be valuable and eye-opening.
Make a Plan – As my client and I talked it out, she realized that she really didn’t make much of an effort to see her mom because it wasn’t pleasant. She also sincerely believed if she had a heart-to-heart and stopped taking things so personally, she could have a better relationship. She prepared a plan to talk to her mom: she would make herself available to take mom grocery shopping once a week, she would phone mom every second day, she would offer to take mom out to the lake in the summer, and she would offer some ‘entertainment’ in the form of a movie or card game twice a month. She would also invite her mom to participate in the planning of all of the above.
Be Reliable – Just as you should be with your children and colleagues, say what you mean and mean what you say. Promise very little but ensure you can deliver what you promise. If you are not 100 per cent sure you can deliver, say you will try your best, but don’t use the ‘p’ word.
Let them In – Include them in the planning, the discussion and the decisions as much as possible. No one likes to be told what to do. Ensuring they know that they are a player in the game, have something significant to contribute, and are being listened to, will go a long way.
Can you imagine the difference in a relationship that you were so purposeful, deliberate and intentional about improving?
At the end of the day, you don’t want to be saying, ‘I intended to do that.’ You want to be able to say you tried everything you could to make the relationship awesome!