Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Are You a Stubborn Parent?

“I suppose so,” Margaret admitted. “Well, it depends on who you ask,” shouted Doug, a bit hard of hearing. Vera said, “Absolutely not!” And Kay just grinned slyly.

This tiny sampling speaks worlds about how we think about ourselves in relationship to a question like the one I ask, “Are you a stubborn parent?” These folks, all over 75, spark still with energy and commitment to living life as fully as possible. They are a little taken aback at first, then chat on about their impressions of aging, the parts they like, the parts they hate. “It’s hard being told what to do by your kids,” Doug goes on to say. “I know they are just trying to help out and are worried. I do love that part. And maybe I don’t always use the best judgment about some things now. But, I still feel 35 inside.” Kay picks up on that part. “A couple of years ago I caught a glimpse of myself in a storefront window and nearly fell over. Even though I look at myself in the mirror every day, there was something about seeing myself in that window that shocked me. My shoulders were droopy, my hair was so white. I thought, ‘I’m old!’ But, you know what,” she continued,” I still feel spry.”

So, it got me thinking about this idea of stubborn parents. I can’t say I did not think this thought myself on occasion as my mother aged and ignored many of my suggestions. I see it, too, in the store as Boomers and others come with their parents or grandparents, excited to find so many useful tools. Sometimes these outings go great. Other times…Well, let’s just say they won’t be remember by either party as one of the more beautiful moments of sharing. In all cases, though, intentions are pure and the love is evident.

How it is that qualities such as boldness and independence can become viewed as “stubbornness” as someone grows older? How can the fact that mom or dad made it all those years without our help fade so fast when signs of aging appear? Make no mistake. We all know there are many real changes that aging brings that we ourselves cannot see clearly, especially at the start of decline. The desire to stay independent is in our bones; we push our way into it right from the start of life. Who hasn’t remarked on how quickly a baby senses freedom when those first steps occur? It just gets stronger from there. No wonder we fight all the harder as time works its ways on muscles, eyes and ears, and sometimes brains.

However, the care giving instinct in humans is almost as fierce, I find. We fuss around the safety of those our children as they take those first steps, as they learn to cross the street, as they get their drivers’ licenses. And, as it turns out, we bring that same instinct to our loved ones when we see signs of their aging. The big difference, though, with levels of tenderness and patience come as the baby becomes a toddler becomes a kid becomes a teenager. “How many times have I asked you…?” So, it is with our parents. At first, our hearts are tender and patient as dad begins to realize it’s not just someone mumbling, but in fact he is losing his hearing. Or, when mom trips and falls the first time, second time, third time. When the signs get more pronounced and the parent seems not to notice or care, patience wears thin. Or worse, when mom or day say it’s just not so! It is then that those around them begin to get edgy and say things like, “You are such a stubborn parent!”

What can be done? Honestly, probably nothing will permanently alter this dynamic between humans. You can only change yourself. If you’re the one giving the care, maybe it is time to refocus on the tenderness, and help find the practical solutions that enable your parent to stay as independent as possible through these changes. There are so many tools and products out now that everyone can use, like jar openers, reachers, and grab bars. Maybe if you buy one for you, too, mom won’t mind using it. Ask her questions about the changes you are seeing and find out whether they are the same ones she notices. Surely, she knows she can’t do things the way she used to. It might be a relief for her to admit them as long as she knows you won’t get carried away with constraining her freedom in unreasonable ways. Unreasonable to her, that is.

And dad, maybe you could listen through the ears of love and caring, ask questions about what kinds of changes your son is seeing that cause him to mention that it’s time to make those changes in the house every time he sees you. He’s probably not just saying that to annoy you. He truly is concerned about something. Find out what it is and have a conversation about it.

If you’ve both just been through too much and it’s unlikely either party will change, it might be time to call in a third party. Professional care managers, therapists and other health-care professionals can often bring sanity to a battle of the wits. They can describe situations objectively, lay out the options, and help channel fear and worry, often the culprits when communication breaks down.

Take this mini survey yourself. Ask a few loved ones in your life, “Are you a stubborn parent?” Make some notes and post them here (changing names, of course, to protect the innocent!). Ask yourself this question if you are a parent, regardless of how old you are or what ages your children are. You know somewhere there is someone who thinks you are stubborn. “I’m just fiercely independent!” John says. “And I plan on staying that way as long as I can!”

Now that’s spunk! Tell us your experiences with stubbornness!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks! It's good to know that there are other folks struggling with their aging, stubborn parents too! My mom had been very resistant to anything related to being "old". She refused to get either a cane or a walker and would get angry whenever anyone so much as mentioned the word. On a suggestion, I took my mom with me when I went to your store and once she saw that it was not like shopping in a hospital, she started opening up. She bought a very colorful folding cane,"just in case", and later we returned for a walker. She has been very happy with her new level of independance and the control she had in choosing the things she liked best.