I find, both for my sister and for me, that one of our greatest challenges is not overthinking too much when dealing with our mother.
We both live a long way from her, but speak to her daily. Given the frequency of communication, each interaction is pretty similar to the one before and the one that will take place the next day.
We talk about the weather, about how she’s feeling and about the day-to-day routines that comprise our lives.
My sister and I speak weekly, sometimes more often if one of us “interprets” something my mom has said as being an impending crisis. In essence, we sit on the phone with her each night, talking about mundane subjects and bringing our own biases and insecurities into what we think she might be saying.
At this stage, we’re a bit sensitized of course. We know she’s going through a big transition, moving from her own house into a seniors’ home. We know she’s finding the loss of her husband a year ago, very trying and she’s lonely without the social routines that governed their lives for 46 years.
And, naturally, we’re feeling guilty that we’re not able to be closer and more supportive of her, even if that choice is more hers than ours.
As time passes, and my mom settles into the routines of her new living accommodations, my sister and I might be less likely to hear some subtle tone or minor phrase that sends our thoughts rocketing at the speed of light to full stress mode.
We may begin to hear more of the subtle tones and minor phrases that reinforce that she’s doing okay and that she’s finding some quality of life in a situation that is completely foreign to us.
For years, I took considerable pride in living the philosophy, “don’t worry about what you can’t control.”
It reduced my stress and allowed me to focus my energy on the matters I could control, at home and at work. But now I find myself worrying about my mom, and if you knew her, you’d understand that she’s the last thing I could ever control.
Had she met the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae, they wouldn’t have lasted 10 minutes and history would have been different.
This is one of the greatest challenges, I believe, in dealing with eldercare issues from afar.
Every vocal inflection or minor complaint seems like a disaster in the making when you feel helpless and distant. While daily communication is supportive of the parent, it creates a routine of potential stress for the son or daughter. I find I’m on the phone 10 minutes a night, but thinking about what was said for the next hour or more.
I’m going to assume this will get better over time. She’ll settle in; we’ll settle in; routines will create comfort rather than anxiety.
In the interim, both my sister and I need to quit talking to each other so often and setting off each other’s guilt, because really, that’s what this is all about and we have to learn to handle it better.
We’re doing the best we can, and my mother has made her own choices; we need to quit beating up on ourselves.
Graham Hookey writes on education, parenting and eldercare.