Tuesday, March 9, 2010

When Push Comes to Shove...Let It Go

Your parent needs help. You've presented the facts and offered a solution. Then he or she explodes, acting like an 85-year-old toddler throwing a tantrum in a grocery store. No way, no how. End of story. Or is it?

Certain issues tend to trigger the inner toddler in seniors who are competent but stubborn and fiercely independent. Asking your parent to give up driving, even in the face of recent fender benders, can feel like cruel and unusual punishment. For other seniors, the idea of strangers entering their home to assist with household tasks is out of the question. And what about bringing in help with personal care or moving to a retirement or assisted living community? You have the facts on your side. But your parent says, "Absolutely not."

So what do you do to end this tug of war? Muscle your power, and impose your will over theirs, sure that your course is right? I saw this dilemma play out between mother and daughter 15 years ago at the retirement community where I worked.

Their body language said it all. Sitting with me at the table, the two turned as far from each other as possible. The daughter spoke 90% of the time, despite my efforts to allow Mom to talk.

"I think Mom will really like it here, after she adjusts," she said. The retirement community was affiliated with Mom's church and Mom's sister-in-law already lived there. Mom, meanwhile, sat silent.

The icy atmosphere continued on tour. At one point the daughter whispered to me, "She's always been difficult."

When I asked her mother, "Is this what you want to do?" she said, "My daughter is making me do this."

A red flag went up. New to the industry, and lacking experience, I went against my better judgment. I continued the admissions process, hoping the older woman would eventually settle in.

Mom moved in. For six weeks, she repeated her mantra, "My daughter made me do this," to everyone she met: staff, residents, her sister, her daughter. By the time she moved away, I'd learned my lesson: pushing your parent into a corner is like putting a leash on a cat and expecting it to heel.

A great book on handling difficult situations is "Are Your Parents Driving You Crazy?" by Joseph A. Ilardo and Carole R. Rothman. They point out that, barring an immediate threat to your parent's safety, trying to impose your will on your parent will have one of four effects: 1. Your parents will stop talking with you, 2. They will become even more stubborn, 3. They will comply grudgingly, with anger and resentment, undermining your efforts, or 4. They will surrender and become completely dependent on you. None of these seem particularly desirable.

When you're tempted to push, let it go. In the next post, we'll discuss other better ways to handle these difficult issues.

Do you have any tips to share on handling a difficult situation?

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