Here’s a heart-tugging Reader’s Question I got this week:
I had a pop quiz this past week… with the holidays and all, I saw your article about bringing parents to family gatherings, and it resonated… For the past couple of years I have struggled with bringing my mother to family holiday celebrations. It’s been really hard… first because she requires so much care and attention… sometimes for emotional reasons… she likes to be the center of attention, and more recently because of physical limitations… she needs help walking, getting to the bathroom, getting herself ready to go out, etc… it feels like the list is endless… there’s always something more to do… I get some help from my siblings, but mostly all the responsibilities fall to me…
Well, I fortunately saw your article before our family gathering this past weekend, and decided to give my mother and my siblings a choice… I could leave mom home and finally attend a party without responsibility, we could hire an aide, and either have her drive mom or we could all chip in and hire Uber to bring her, and that would mean they would all have to share in caring for mom’s needs throughout the day… I also said that if mom came, I’d recommend that she wear depends since bathroom issues can be a problem… I made the mistake of leaving the decision up to them… mom came, and I’m miserable… I didn’t get time off, and I wasn’t able to fully enjoy the holiday.
What could I have done differently to have a better outcome for me?
…and here’s My Response:
My heart goes out to you and your family. This is a very challenging time for all of you. It is very difficult to watch your parents’ abilities decline, and some of their less-than-loving behaviors become more exaggerated. It’s also problematic when every family member experiences the changes differently, or not at all. I think it’s important that you laid out some options for your siblings with regard to the holiday gathering. It was a great start!
Remember that before laying out options, you must first be clear on your desired outcome. A desired outcome has to be what you want and it has to be something over which you have control. If you really want to attend an event free of responsibility, then that is the statement you need to make… as difficult as it may be to admit it to others.
If you are afraid or concerned about someone else’s response to your desired outcome, stop and ask yourself: “Is my desired outcome stronger than my fear of their reactions?” If the answer is “No,” that’s something to get clear about for yourself, because it’s probably affecting your quality of life more than you realize. You may want to explore where your difficulty in taking a stand for your own boundaries originated, and how you can get better at strengthening them. It’s helpful to have someone you trust support you when doing that internal inquiry, since they will pick up on themes and perhaps inconsistencies that you may not be able to see right away.
Once you’ve mapped out all the possible options for your mom’s participation, be sure the ones you offer as choices to your family members are all options that you also can accept and live with. You may also want to point out the specific tasks someone else will need to do with each option, since you are the only one who knows those details. Once your siblings choose an option, ask them to let you know who will be taking on responsibility for the which tasks, so everyone is clear in advance who has volunteered to step up and provide that part of your mom’s care.
When you say that you want a day to relax and enjoy yourself at a holiday gathering, the ball is in your siblings’ court. If they do come up with an arrangement that they can all deal with and accept, it doesn’t have to be one of your options – it just needs to cover all the tasks you’ve outlined. You can give your siblings the message that you trust them to work out a plan that will suit them and mom the best, and thank them for taking charge that day. Let them know you appreciate it!
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It’s almost inevitable that you will feel discomfort initially in making this new decision. Acknowledge to yourself in advance that there is discomfort in the status quo, and there will be discomfort in the new decision as well. At least now you get to decide which discomfort you are willing to live with.
Be sure to Breathe through the feelings that come up within you when you commit to a different plan from the one everyone is used to. Remember, it’s not your feelings that get you into trouble, it’s your actions.
All that really matters, when all is said and done, is: can you live with this new decision?
For added support, guidance and encouragement in taking as good care of yourself as you do of the others in your life, download my complimentary Caregiver’s Step-By-Step Guide to Take Back Your Life.
Once you’ve had a chance to go through the 9 Steps in the guide, email me and let me know what you discovered. Then take me up on the offer for a complimentary consultation, and let’s talk about how to build on what you learned so you can get the most benefit from using it going forward. We’ll identify what will help you the most in moving forward to Take Back Your Life!
And we breathe…