What’s the hardest thing about helping your parents to make a decision about retirement living? Is it the finances? It is a lack of acceptable solutions? For me and for most of the people I’ve talked to about this, it is none of these things. What is most difficult is the emotional toll it takes on you and on your relationship with your parents.
On the way home from Door Number Three, I told Mom I was going to give her the time she needed to consider the properties we’d visited and I meant it. I planned to allow her a week or so to think everything over, without offering any input, unless she asked for it. I was going to continue my care-giving and avoid the entire issue – at least for a little while.
I envisioned conversations between she and my dad. I thought she’d lay out all the information I’d given her, from brochures to spreadsheets, and reason out the need for the move and which property would be best. Even though my sister has turned the whole thing over to me, I thought Mom might talk to her about it. I expected Mom to pray about it, too.
What I didn’t expect was a hysterical call on Monday morning of the week she was supposed to spend thinking about it. I didn’t recognize the maniacal daughter she claimed was forcing her to make this decision post haste. Yes, I’d been consistent in doing research. Yes, I’d insisted she take a tour of the three properties which represented the best solutions. Yes, I wanted the move to happen sooner not later, but I was not standing outside their door patting my foot waiting for an answer either.
The truth is, it hurts. I’m apparently completely competent to run errands, chauffeur them to doctor appointments and all the other things that take up several days of each week, but according to my mother I’m “too emotional” to offer reliable advice about something which impacts my life as much as it does theirs.
The implications are obvious. They know my faults. I dropped out of college. When I was younger, my parents had to rescue me out of financial difficulties a time or two. My first marriage was a bust. My career choices have been questionable, as have been some of the friends I selected. How in the world could I advise them about an important life decision like this?
But all that happened long ago. I’ve been financially independent for decades and happily married for eighteen years. I even went back and finished my degree – magna cum laude with school honors, by the way. Maybe some of my running buddies of the past weren’t exactly exemplar human beings, but at this end of my life, I have a cadre of loyal friends and we count our relationships in decades, not months.
It would be very easy to let the issue of downsizing into a retirement center digress into a family feud. We could bicker indefinitely. I could point out all the errors of judgement my parents made in bringing me up. Or I could announce my pique and refuse to talk to them until they saw things my way.
The problem is, that way we all lose. My parents would be stuck with the difficulties aging has dumped on them and I’d still be burdened with the constant concern. Each time the phone rang, I’d still fear Mom had fallen down the steps into the garage or that Dad fell while Mom helped him with a bath or Mom passed out while watering her shrubs.
So what did I do when I was faced with this tirade and all the tirades I’ve faced since we started this process? There’s really only one thing I could do. I had to grow up and take myself out of the equation. Though I know that Mom would love to engage in any kind of argument that would distract us from moving forward with this project, I refuse to play.
I’d love to defend myself concerning the choices I’ve made in life, both good and bad – but what would be the profit in that. Instead, I’ve been willing to admit that I have made mistakes in the past, without pointing out her mistakes. I’ve been able to listen to her claim my emotions are causing me to have bad judgement, without engaging my emotions at all or pointing out her hysteria. I tell myself, repeatedly that this is not about me – because it’s not. And then I wait for the telephone to ring again.