Thursday, January 13, 2011

How to be a friend to your aging parents! Some common sense!

Now let's get this straight...your parents are not your children.  Old people are not children.  It really is demeaning when you treat an older person like a child.  Even a very ill old person deserves to be treated like an adult!  Because I am getting older all the time, I think I have a few words of advice for you. You can take it or leave it...that is your choice.
If they weren't my family, they would be my friends!

I was eating breakfast at a local restaurant this morning.   My husband and I had just been seated when an older woman using a walker came in accompanied by her daughter.  Now this senario can go either way. The woman using the walker can walk just fine with her walker and the daughter can walk beside her or even behind her carrying on a normal conversation or the daughter can hover over the mother speaking in condescending and superior tones. I think you know what I mean.

Now the mother begins to talk.  She has things on her mind...apartment things, news things, nursing home/assisted living things.  She begins to talk about the woman that sits at her table at lunch every day. The woman is not nice she says....what should the daughter do?
  • Shush the mother telling her that she should just ignore the other woman.
  • Validate her concerns but not make any suggestions.
  • Give advice on how to handle the problem.
Now remember, you are not the are a friend.  If you think of your parents as adults, you know that they do not want you to tell them how to behave nor do they want your advice!  I have been the daughter in this situation and really I was beating my gums giving advice all over the place.  As I look back on this I know I was wrong on so many levels.  I realize now that all my mother wanted was for me to understand.  I want you to know that your parents want your support for the decisions they make.  If they need your help with intervention where they live you need to do that.  But ask first.  Some things cannot be changed so don't leap into the void.  Let her call the shots!

As you are leaving the restaurant your mother remembers that she wants to go shopping for a red sweater at her favorite shop north of town.  You had not planned on spending that much time with her today.  What do you say?

  • I just don't have time for that right now.
  • We will think about that later.
  • I've been wanting to get some things there...what day can we go?  
  • We will have a field trip later Mom.
You are not the are a friend!  Let her call the shots!

Even if your parent is suffering from dementia or has reached that time in their life where they have transcended the everyday wants and prefer to reflect on the past, please treat them with the respect they deserve.  Sometimes all you need to be is a good listener and conversationalist.  Who knows, you may learn more than you ever expected.

A real friend enjoys my company.  A real friend treats me like an equal.  A real friend goes places with me unexpectedly.  A real friend loves me in spite of my faults and failings.  A real friend makes me feel important and needed!  A real friend lets me be in charge...they let me call the shots!

Older people do not want to be called sweetey or honey nor do they want to be called "youngsters on a date" like it is a joke.  Really, when someone says that to us we want to laugh...they have no idea how much we enjoy each others company and no joke, we do go on dates.  I sounds nuts but older people are not old inside. Please treat us like an equal and show a little respect for our age...we do like to be treated as though we are wise.  And we like to call the shots! Try that.

My husband and I are a little outrageous sometimes...we say things we shouldn't just to see if we can get a rise out of our children.  We get in trouble...but we are not intimidated by their scolding.  Remember if we are to be treated as though we are wise and strong, we really do need to act the part. We are still teaching our children how to behave even as we grow older!

Finally, be sure that, when you ask for advice or help, it is for the right reason.  Older people will act helpless when they are hungry for attention.  Going to the well for help can actually invite a perception that you are helpless and even childish.  You are a grown up senior citizen.  I am sure that you can find a better way to get time with your children.  In the end we must have a life of our own...our children are not our children anymore...that is why we need to foster our friendship with them.  After all we love them more that heaven can tell.

Have a wonderful day!

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  1. You're very right Barbara. When I worked as a geriatric social worker I saw too many people infantilized by family, friends and workers
    Dementia isn't becoming a baby again. Nobody knows what a truly demented person really remembers or thinks for one thing


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