As featured in North Hawaii News July 21 2015
The car pulled up to the day center with a sudden stop. A woman quickly got out and grabbed her mother’s walker out of the back of the car. The second the passenger side door opened, the commands began. “Wait for me to get your walker, Mom. Here it is, lift your feet up high. That’s it. Hold on. Sit up straight and prepare to stand. Nose over toes, Mom. Stand up. Good. Straighten up. Step into your walker. Not too close. Walk slowly. Take big steps. I’ll be back at 5:30. Repeat the time I’ll be back, Mom. That’s right, 5:30.”
Her body was tense with the stress of a full-time caregiver. In order to successfully manage the people and responsibilities in her life, she had gone into a sort of auto-pilot. Her dialogue rarely changed even though her mom would lift up her feet, sit up straight and put her nose over her toes, even without her daughter giving out the commands. The majority of the nervous energy directed at her mom was more of habit than necessity.
This woman is a compilation of many well-intended caregivers who become so concerned about their loved one’s needs that they sometimes override the independence their loved one values. The stronger their desire to help, the more they tend to control the choices and conversation to the point that the person requiring care no longer feels like they have a voice.
I have spoken with a number of care recipients involved in this dynamic and they have told me they often feel talked down to and treated like a child. Even if a caregiver feels like they are now the parent to their parent, opening a space for the true parent to feel heard will ease the potential tension in this new dynamic.
Many of us speak far more than we need to, especially when we feel responsible for another person’s well-being.
“Buddha realized that discontent in life is the result of attachment to things and the way we think things should be,” states Rebecca Shafir in the book, “The Zen of Listening.” It is through reading her book that I realized we become so immersed in our own personal story, or “movie,” that we appoint ourselves as the director of other people’s movies as well. We decide what items are of value, what health concerns are a priority and which approach to care is the best. Determination to make things as we think they should be often overrides the valuable connection between ourselves and the person we are trying to help.
Should you find yourself in the above situation where you are caring for an adult loved one, please remember that they have deep thoughts and inner wisdom beyond your understanding. I recommend that you maintain a supportive environment for two-way conversations on a regular basis and take the time to give them a chance to lift those legs up high and stand up straight without your constant verbal cueing. Remind them of the reason you are encouraging them to do the things you are requesting and make sure they are comfortable with your approach.
You are only given one personal movie to direct in life. In your loved one’s movie and you are still a supporting actor. They’ve been directing their own story for a very long time now and deserve to call some of the shots.