But you must be willing to grow and change as well.
Can I tell you how proud I am of my mother? At 86, she is still learning and growing. Early one day I got a call from my cousin inviting us to an impromptu birthday celebration that night. The family was meeting at a restaurant right by mom (I live an hour away), so she offered to pick up my mother. I immediately went into caregiver mode: “OK, I can cancel plans with my friends, I can rearrange my day and get there by 5:30.”
But wait? Did she just offer to pick up my mom and get her to the restaurant? My mother, who needs her “go cart” and a wheel chair to leave the house? My mother, who has never gone through this process with anyone but my dad or me because she trusts no one else?
So, wait for it, I say, “I’m sorry, as much as I would love to join you, I can’t. But I really want mom to go. In fact, mom needs to know that she can trust someone other than me to help her into the car. So, do me a favor, call her, invite her, and I will talk to her as well.”
I knew this might just work. That this was a God-given moment where opportunity intersected with new habits. You see, these are the cousins that she loves and that love her, in all her glory. These are the cousins who we spend most of our holidays with, so I’ve learned to step back and have them help her out of the car and into their home. And this celebration was going to be a big, extended family celebration. She would not want to miss it.
I waited to call mom then asked, “What do you think?”
“Well, I’m not sure, it’s asking a lot of them.”
“Mom, Sue and Rick already help you into their house and you trust them, right?”
“Yes. You can’t come up?”
“I could but I would have to rearrange a lot of things including canceling dinner plans. And I have to turn around tomorrow and drive back up there to care for you this weekend.”
“Mom, I really want you to do this. I know it’s scary, but you need to know and trust, that someone else can help you out of the house and take you somewhere. What if I’m away, or break an arm?”
“Don’t say that! I don’t sleep worrying about that!”
“OK, I know you do, but I think it would be good for you to do this, there is no one that knows you better and that you trust. I know it’s scary. No one has done this with you other than daddy and me. Do me a favor and call Sue and talk to her about it.”
“Well, I’ve got a lot to think about, but I’ll call her.”
Flash forward a bit, mom calls and says,
“I’m going to go. They have the same car as you, so I know I can get in and out of it.”
“Mom, that’s great! I’m so proud of you.”
“Proud of me…I’m scared to death.”
“I’m proud BECAUSE you are scared and you’re going to do it anyway. I’ll call Sue and tell her step-by-step what we do.”
“And do me a favor, call me when you get home, I want to hear about the party.”
Too often we underestimate our elder’s capacity and willingness to change and grow. It doesn’t happen when we dictate to them. It happens when we change our language, let them make decisions, while keeping them safe in that decision and working towards being a team.
This is not an overnight change for my mother. It is three years of open discussion, setting boundaries and asking her to step out of her comfort zone, but knowing that I am right there with her. It’s not an overnight change for me either. It’s learning to set boundaries, to change the way I approach hard topics, to step back and let others help us, and to foster an adult-to-adult relationship.
Did I call my cousin and give her all the details on how we get mom out the front door? You betcha! Did I look at my watch while I was out at dinner with my friends? Oh yeah. I knew by 6:45 they were in the restaurant and I had not gotten a call, so all was good. And mom – she had a wonderful time. I’m a little jealous to tell you the truth. But she knows, and I know that if for some reason I’m not there, she’s got this.
Disclaimer: The material in this blog is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace, nor does it replace, consulting with a physician, lawyer, accountant, financial planner or other qualified professional.