Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Eldercare Dilemma: In My Aging Parent's Eyes, I've Failed!

Raise your hand if you've...

Failed to keep a promise to your aging parent.

Forgotten their birthday or anniversary.

In frustration, said words you wish you could eat.

I raised my hand more than once. For many reasons--commitment overload, personality differences and the human condition--we Boomers do and say things to let our parents down.

Ten years ago I opened my parents' apartment door to pick them up for a doctor's appointment my sister had set. Daddy, who had Parkinson's Disease, was dropping pounds as if he'd won the "Biggest Loser" competition. My sister forgot to tell them about the appointment. I showed up on their doorstep.

"What's this about going to the doctor's?" Daddy snapped. "Why didn't anybody tell me? If I do see the doctor, you're not coming in!"

A simple misunderstanding, in most people's eyes. But to him, we'd failed, miserably.

Several months ago I listened to Stephen Towles, an ordained minister and elder care advisor with Choice Advisory Services. He spoke to a group of 80 Seattle area professionals in the senior care field. Besides working with elders daily, many of them struggle with communicating with their own parents.

Our first reaction, when we fail, or when someone (like our parent) thinks we fail, Towles said, is to self-deprecate (the I'm no good, nobody loves me, I'm going to eat some worms mentality) in which we ruminate over our failure, playing it again and again. Or we blame the other person for our mistake. Either tact, while understandable, doesn't help. We wallow in our humiliation and are stuck, like Winnie the Pooh, in a hole of our own making. Have you been there? I have.

A better way to react, Towles said, is to calm ourselves and realize that "No one or nothing is against me. That means everything is for me." I found a similar thought in the book of Romans in the New Testament, where the Apostle Paul writes, "Nothing can separate us from the love of God." Towles said when he failed a key person in his life, just thinking about the truth that no one was against him transformed his perspective.

Towles says this exercise moves us from self-focused humiliation to other-centered humility. Instead of beating ourselves up when we fail our aging parent, we ask, "What can I do to repair this situation?" That change in thought pattern propels actions which may include apologizing and making amends.

With my dad, I first calmed myself, and later him. And yes, I got to accompany them into the doctor's office, thanks to a kindly nurse.

Do you have a story of a time when you've failed your parent and worked through the process from humiliation to humility?


  1. I appreciate your blog and your writing. I receive such volume of "pointers and tips", and have been removing myself like crazy from lists..yet YOURS I will gladly keep receiving!

  2. Thank you, Annie, for your kind words. Let me know if you have an issue you'd like me to tackle. It's nice to know people like you, who care about your relationships with elders--be they parents or clients--find help from my words.


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