By Bob Lowry
This was first posted about 3 1/2 years ago, well before Satisfying Retirement had many readers. Since it is a subject that continues to concern many of us, I decided to give it fresh exposure. I think many of the thoughts can also apply to siblings and marriages.
I am most interested in your thoughts and feedback on this topic.
Not long ago a reader asked for some feedback on the important issue of dealing with a difficult parent. This problem is one that many of us are facing now, or will have to deal with in the future. I don’t pretend to be an expert in this area of human relationships. But, doing some basic research and experiencing some of these issues myself have provided some approaches that may be helpful for that reader, and you, to consider in your quest for satisfying retirement.
1) Don’t expect your family member to change. Whatever you do (or don’t do) accept that the difficult parent may not change. You can change some of the factors under your control that may make the relationship less stressful. But, expecting a difficult parent to become loving and accepting will only make your feeling toward that person worse when change does not occur.
2) Don’t Give Advice Unless It’s Asked For. Your parent is probably feeling a loss of control and freedom. If you begin to reverse the parent-child role by offering unsolicited advice on unimportant topics, you are risking problems. Importantly this concerns advice, not critical health and safety issues that must be faced.
3) Accept Differences of Opinions. After all, your parent is not you. Mom or Dad does not think exactly like you. Respect the opinions of others, don’t disregard them. Don’t dismiss, out of hand, an opinion no matter how different from yours.
4) Listen to What Your Elderly Parent is Saying. Listen completely, really listen. Remember that an older person might take longer to form a response or finish a thought. A period of silence is not a bad thing that you need to fill immediately. Paying attention and listening carefully shows respect. Of course, listening works both ways so try to determine that your loved one is hearing and understanding what you are saying.
5) Attempt to determine a pattern. Does your parent’s mood worsen the longer he or she is awake? Could it be pain? it a growing feeling of frustration at the inability to perform usual daily tasks or to remember things? Angry outbursts, complaints, and sarcasm may be the result.
6) Respond to strong emotions with none. The best response is no response at all. Most people who like to argue do so because it tends to evoke a strong emotional reaction from others. Don’t take the bait. If you respond to a challenge with a clam and neutral emotional tone, it is likely the combative parent will move on to another subject. your mother will probably drop the subject pretty quickly.
7) At all costs, stay calm. When you must deal with criticism and anger keep yourself under control. Yelling back never helps. Your parent’s emotions can be a projection of feelings of isolation and inability to do he or she used to do. Don’t allow yourself to be pulled into a battle that is about emotions and not reality.
8) Protect Yourself. You and your parent cannot afford for you to suffer from burnout. While you can’t change your aging parents’ condition, you can do things for yourself. Remember that you need a respite for yourself. Your parent may not be happy (so what else is new?), but hire someone for a few hours, or even a full day to recharge your batteries. Taking a break is something that you require. Don’t feel guilty. Don’t accept criticism from others. You know your limits.
This is a complex issue that is loaded with emotional landmines. While I am comfortable with the steps noted above, I don’t believe this list is complete. Your input and life experiences will help us all.
My dad will turn 91 in a few months. As his mental and physical facilities slip, I will be faced with more tough decisions about his care. I am as anxious to read what you have to say as anyone.
By Bob Lowry