We often hear about “having the talk” with our parents and when we do, it usually has to do with our parents needing help and finding a way to help them without overstepping their boundaries.
But I believe there is another “big talk” that happens after a parent moves into your home or you move into their home to help them. I think this one may be even MORE difficult………at least, it was for me. This talk has to do with establishing OUR boundaries.
When my father came to live with me, he moved 1300 miles away from his former home (which I had also done just 3 months previously) so of course, he didn’t know anyone. It was understandable that I would take him to church with me, to lunches, on drives to explore the area and to run small errands. I didn’t realize though that he wanted to go EVERYWHERE with me. I quickly learned that he became insulted if I didn’t bring home along to the grocery store with me or even to go shopping for linens! It became almost (no, completely) impossible to go to dinner with my friends because he would then be left behind and would pout.
When he first came to live with me, his dementia had not progressed so far as to make him unsafe at home alone for an extended period of time but still at that time, he was not walking well with his cane and refused to use a walker. He fell a LOT. He was also beginning to have some incontinence problems which made having a bathroom available VERY important.
Because of these conditions, just taking him along to the grocery store was not simply a slight inconvenience. It could take up to 2 hours to get out of the store because of how slow he walked and because it usually became necessary to hunt for a restroom at some point during the trip. I recall this experience when my children were potty training. BUT……..I couldn’t go into the restroom with him to help him, so I would stand outside hoping he was okay. I cannot tell you how frustrating these trips became (although, you may already know from your own experiences).
I remember a time when I had taken him with me to Costco (because he wanted some WWII DVDs that he heard were available there) and almost collapsing into a tearful heap in the middle of the store. There were only 2 motorized chairs available at Costco and both were in use. This meant that we had to use the wheelchair – with me pushing it, because of the neuropathy in his hands. Trying to push a wheelchair and a Costco cart at the same time is almost impossible and as more items were added, it became worse and worse. I finally just couldn’t do it and left without many items that I needed.
That’s when we had to have THE TALK. I told him that there were things that I needed to do and that I just couldn’t afford to take that much time to do them. He said that he understood but emotionally, he didn’t. The dementia only added to his anxiety and loneliness.
My wanting to go out alone was an insult to his independence, so I signed him up for the “senior companion program”, a program which is available in many areas that matches up a home-bound senior with a companion volunteer. My father wasn’t so happy about this either but it did give him diversion enough to where I could run out and quickly do errands.
Eventually, it was necessary to have a caregiver with my Dad whenever I left the house (once a week for 4 hours). He not-so-affectionately called her “the babysitter”.
There was an experience, when my grown children were visiting from California, that I’ll always regret. We planned to go down-town for the parade that night (all of us) but before that, the kids wanted to visit Cabella’s, a huge hunting/fishing/guy kinda store. We left my Dad with “the babysitter” and had planned to return to pick him up before the parade. But the weather turned bad – there was sleet, fog and snow and I knew there was no way to keep him from falling (because he still refused to use the walker) so we didn’t go back to get him. He was VERY VERY upset when we returned. In his mind, he was perfectly capable of navigating that event in bad weather conditions and he was very hurt that we had not included him.
My mistake with my father was in not having THIS talk soon enough. When he came to live with me, I wasn’t aware of how frail his condition had become. He didn’t come to live with me because he thought he needed help; he came to escape a bad situation where he had been previously living. Perhaps many of the hurt feelings and frustrations could have been eliminated if we had set boundaries from the very beginning.
Before your parent ever comes to live with you or before you move into their home, have a talk about boundaries. Convey to them that you are also a grown-up and need to have some time alone to spend with your friends and family and that you intend to do that. Tell them that if the errands can be done quickly, then there will be more time for playing board games or taking long drives in the country.
Don’t be like me who, now that my caregiving has come to an end, has essentially no social network and must begin again to make new friends.
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