I’ve written before about my experiences in retirement of ‘supporting’ an elderly parent. Here are a few more thoughts. They are meant to be kindly although I admit they don’t sound that way.

There’s no doubt that it was a bad visit. My own fault in many ways. I let my mother flip my switch, why I don’t know because it wasn’t any different to every other weekly visit. It was a beautiful sunny day. As we left the house to go for lunch and shopping I said and perhaps I shouldn’t have, I said something positive. Yes, I did.  I suppose I know it antagonises her but I couldn’t help it. I said ‘beautiful day’. She replied ‘but it’s cold’.

I cannot begin to describe how much this annoyed me. It was entirely predictable so why I ‘bit’ this time I cannot say, I must have been feeling a bit out of shape already. I said ‘get in the car and stop moaning’. Silly of me. After that it was all down hill. The whole visit was negative and tense. As we drove back up the M1 I felt terrible. Not because I had upset her, no, not at all, but rather because I had let her upset me. I had let her pull me out of shape. I felt bad and decided next time would be different. In the intervening week I worked out 3 strategies that would help my next visit.

  1. Regard visiting her as charity work. Everybody does some kind of charity work and this was mine. Just something to be done once a week.
  2. And this is related to the first strategy, I had to believe that this was not my mother, simply an old person who I was visiting, you know in the way that this government encourages us to do because it’s cheaper than providing proper care. Anyway, this would not be my mother, she would be somebody else’s mother.

To cut a long story short these tactics worked really well. Oh, yes and I had a third strategy, a key word, a mantra if you like to see me through the visit – serene – I would remain serene whatever came long.

I don’t know how long this will be successful before she works out what my tactics are and subverts them, but, at the moment, they are working (yesterday was my third week of the new tactic). So this is my advice to dealing with difficult elderly parents. But I thought perhaps I should balance this with advice from more sane people and I read this article on the internet. Maybe this has some relevance as well although some suggestions make me shudder.

Developing self esteem in the elderly from WikiHow

Ask them how they’re doing today. If you get a negative answer, try to cheerily reassert them. For instance, “Wow, to not be feeling so well, you look absolutely gorgeous!” Asking them WHY they feel the way they do often helps, too, because that shows them you care enough to prod a little deeper than the surface answer.

Get them to give you advice. It can be something as simple as, “What do you think about our new governor?”, or something as complicated as, “What did you expect out of your children when they were teenagers?” This can help them to understand that their opinions do matter.

Ask them how you can be like them. If she does her rouge beautifully, ask her how. If his pants are always creased perfectly, ask him how. Elderly people love this.

Take them places. Old people miss being young and having fun. Take them out for a drive with the windows down, take them for ice cream, take them shopping. Show them that you enjoy spending time with them.

Call them on the phone and make it a point to say, “I care about you, and I just wanted to check up on how you’re doing.” It’s often good to ask, “Need anything done lately?”

Let them do all that they can for themselves. Even though it’s faster for you to do things, and you may think you’re helping, helping yourself is a freedom that we young take for granted. It’s what our forefathers fought for, and the elderly hold it very close to their heart.

Try not to criticize the way they do things. It may drive you crazy, but it is most likely one of the few things they can still decide for themselves.

Remember that even though they’re old, they’re still people. They still have feelings, fears, worries, hopes and dreams, just like you. They might not be as vocal about them as you are because they’ve had their share, but respect them as your fellow human.

Remember that their incapabilities are actually a really big source of self-consciousness for them. Don’t make a big deal out of it, and just act like you don’t mind it at all. Make sure you still treat them like they’re a real person.

So there we have it, two rather different forms of advice about being with the elderly. Some of the latter list would make my mother worse but I’m sure they have merit for many / most people. My mother has been a big problem for us. Not to sound selfish, which I undoubtedly am, but it’s pulling my plans for a perfect retirement out of shape.

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