Make Time for Your Personal Relationship
Posted By Maryann Porosky On MAY 02,2017
So often in the busyness of getting things done for an aging parent, we can forget that there's actually a personal relationship there. And like any relationship, it takes time and needs to be nourished.
At Caring Choices, we see many well-intended daughters and sons dropping by to squeeze in a visit, do some errands, and then scoot out to get on home or back to work. Completely understandable! And practical in its own way. But it often leaves the older adult feeling belittled and demeaned. No one wants to be reduced to an item on the to-do list.
There is a push/pull dynamic as parents age and need help. On the one hand, they tend to appreciate the love that motivates a child to do the shopping, wash and fold the laundry, or balance the checkbook. On the other hand, it can be an uncomfortable reminder of functional losses. In the United States, we value independence. The need for help can carry with it feelings of shame.
It's their house
And none of this addresses the fact that they have their order and may really resent your "cleaning up." You mean well, but when you whoosh in to help, things get put in the wrong place. The dishes may not be washed to their standards. You may choose to throw away or recycle something that they actually cherish. They may be grateful for your intention, but they may also have practical, as well as emotional, resentments.
What older adults want
According to researchers, aging parents want both independence (autonomy) and connection. In a weekly visit this might translate into preserving dignity and offering "presence." Older adults need to know they are valued for who they are. For their strengths despite any inability to accomplish as much as they used to. They want to know they are not an obligation or a duty.
It's not the amount of time so much as the quality of the relationship. This speaks again to "presence." Do you multitask while you are there (sneak peeks at your email or respond to texts in the middle of a conversation)? Indeed, you may have heard a story a thousand times, but it has value to your parent at this moment. What could you learn/gain personally by reaching inward and reflecting on the meaning it has to Mom or Dad and why they are telling it at this moment? What does the story say about them that they want or need to affirm? Can you help affirm that for them?
In praise of slowness
In a delightful Ted Talk, Canadian journalist Carl Honoré takes a humorous look at our speed- and productivity-obsessed society. It's worth the 20 minutes to reflect upon the things you might gain if you were to slow down a bit. Elders do not "run at the speed of business." You may be surprised by what you see when you slow down to their pace. Perhaps you can reinterpret your visits as a respite of sorts, an opportunity to get off the treadmill even just for an hour or two now and then.
If you find the relationship with the person you care for is lacking in interaction, check out our newsletter article for simple strategies to make visits more than business.
And if it feels like the clock is dominating your life, give us a call at 973-627-4087. As the north New Jersey experts in family caregiving, we understand your predicament. We have helped many, many families just like yours find a more harmonious way to address the to-do list while nurturing the personal relationship that is, after all, the reason why you are doing all that you do.