You make every effort to care for your parent. But instead of acting grateful for all you do, you get grief for what you don’t do. Sound familiar? Regardless of how often you’re with your aging loved one or how long you stay with them when you visit, the response is the same from your parents when it’s time for you to leave. “Why are you in such a hurry to go?”…or….”What’s more important than your parents?”……
Many caregivers tell me they are greeted by their loved one with “Hello, stranger” or “It’s about time you came to see your old man,” even if they just visited a few days before. Others tell me that their parents don’t seem to enjoy the time they’re together because they are so concerned about the time they aren’t together! If your parent’s remarks make you feel like screaming or just stopping your visits altogether, avoid making any rash decisions. First consider the reasons he or she may be acting this way.
- The need for reassurance. At a time in their lives that is characterized by loss – of their friends and loved ones, health, abilities, and so forth – your parents may be scared that they will lose you too. Assure them that you still love them and will be there when they need you.
- Jealousy. Although it’s hard to think of parents being jealous of their children, it happens. You have your health, your family, your job, your life, your independence and probably many opportunities they never had. They may see any or all of these things as competition for your interest and affections. If you really loved them, they reason, you’d put them before the other interests in your life.
- Difference of Perspective. For many caregivers with jobs and other commitments, devoting even a few hours to caring for aging parents is difficult. A couple of hours in the evening seems like a long time when you’ve worked all day and you have more work – and possibly a family deserving of your attention – waiting for you when you get home. On the other hand, for the mature adult with few responsibilities at this time in their lives and perhaps few interests except for a grown child, a few hours seems insignificant compared to the long, tedious hours they’re alone. Seeing you provides a respite from boredom and loneliness. No wonder why they don’t want you to leave. And they’re likely to resort to guilt tactics to keep you there longer and make you feel like you need to come back sooner.
- Forgetfulness. If your aging loved one is cognitively impaired, perhaps he or she doesn’t remember that you visited just yesterday or that you’ve been sitting on the sofa together for three hours. If a cognitively impaired parent argues that you are late or haven’t visited, there is no reason to start a fight by telling him just how often or how long you do visit. Nor is there reason to feel guilty if your parent insinuates that you “don’t care” if you don’t spend enough time with her. You can gently tell her that you do love being with her but that the need to earn a living or care for your own family or home makes it impossible to spend as much time with her as you would like. Reassure her that you’re always nearby, and in the event of an emergency, you will do all you can to get to her as quickly as possible.
Of course, even if your aging loved one still has all her faculties, she will most likely want more time and attention than you can offer. One solution is to help your parent find other interests – besides you! Having other places to direct their attention will help relieve boredom. Encourage other family members and friends to visit your mother or take her out if she’s able. Check into adult day care programs or activities at a nearby senior center. If your parent attends a place of worship, find out if they offer events for seniors.
Simple cards and gifts can be a good way to reassure an older adult who fears abandonment. A gift such as a large-print book, a videotape, a craft kit or a gift certificate from her favorite store or restaurant will serve double-duty. She’ll have the pleasure of opening the gift and knowing you’re thinking of her and she’ll also have an activity to look forward to or something to keep her busy.
But, if you do decide to try these strategies, be careful. You don’t want your parent to constantly expect gifts or planned activities. Nor do you want gifts and activities to replace the time you spend with her. Even so, a few dollars and an hour or so of planning now and then – when combined with your own reassurance – can let her know you care, improve her mood and perhaps help reduce the number of times you have to hear, “It’s about time you came for a visit” or “Why are you in such a hurry to leave?”
ALEXIS ABRAMSON, Ph.D. is cited as America’s leading, impassioned champion for the dignity and independence of those over 50. Abramson is the author of two highly acclaimed books — The Caregivers Survival Handbook and Home Safety for Seniors. For more information go to www.alexisabramson.com.