Recently a colleague asked for some advice on dealing with his mom. He assumed that since I am in the business of serving older adults I would have some wisdom on the topic. I started by admitting that those in my profession are often no more effective when it comes to facing the challenges of an aging parent. As we started to talk I realized that through personal and professional experience I had learned a few things. I knew this when he began taking notes.
First of all it occurs to me that while our parents may turn to us for advice occasionally, generally they feel that they are the parent and they should be the one doing the supporting, emotionally, financially, or otherwise, even if we are old enough ourselves to be somebody’s grandparent.
So how do we chime in when we feel that something critical needs to be addressed? A classic example is when the time arrives that you are certain it is no longer safe for your parent to drive. It used to be that this was more of a male issue but now our moms are every bit as wedded to the freedom of driving and just as fiercely determined to hold on to the privilege.
One way to broach the problem is to try to work through a trusted peer of your parent, perhaps a sibling or best friend; someone you can talk to who is familiar with the driving skills of your parent and whose opinion might be better received than your own. The more you can keep your visits limited to ordinary parent-child discussions the better off you will be. You don’t want mom dreading your phone calls for fear that you will have another thing she “just has to do for her own good.”
One way to prepare for the inevitable age related concerns is to talk about them long before any issues present themselves. For example, my mother loves her big bungalow which once housed her and eight other family members. She now lives there alone and enjoys being one block from her church and being close to long-time friends. But for the last 20 years, one or another of my siblings has told her she has to start to consider moving to a condo so she won’t have to worry about stairs and all the upkeep. Once we learned how important it was to her to stay put we could concentrate on how to make that work.
Finally, we need to save our battles for the real important issues. If indeed mom is a demonstrated hazard on the road, it is incumbent upon us to take the keys away and find ways to support her transportation needs. But mostly we should just be her child who shares our successes, listens to her stories and is aware of what steps she will want us to take when the time comes.
President and CEO of CMSS