As the youngest of three and the only girl, I [Jane Daly, author of The Caregiving Season] admit I was spoiled. My mother is an only child and her parents were involved in our lives as far back as I can remember, so they were always around to spoil me too. They even lived with us for a few years when I was growing up.
After Mike and I married, my mom used to cook for us a couple of times a week.
“You both work hard,” my dad would say. “Let us take care of you.”
I liked being taken care of. It was easy to stay dependent on my folks. I was grateful for the respite from having to plan and cook meals, and I always expressed my thanks. Looking back, I realize I expected to be taken care of. I don’t remember ever offering to help with grocery money. Not that my parents would have accepted it, but I viewed their service to me as my right.
Now the tables have turned. The expectations come from my mother, who is disappointed if we don’t take dinner to her every night. I find myself becoming resentful. The more she expects, the more I resent.
Yet as caregivers, we can’t expect our relationship with our parents to remain the same forever. Although we’ll always be our parents’ children, our new role carries us into uncharted waters.
When parents’ expectations and goals clash with those of their adult child, emotions bubble to the surface. Unmet expectations on both sides can create resentment, and resentment grows into bitterness. For example, every time I visit Mom’s house, she expects me to do a long list of tasks. The list is on a sticky note next to my dinner plate and usually looks like this:
Pay these bills.
Look something up on the web.
Text your brother.
Mike’s list is usually longer. She asks him to fix things—the lamp, the alarm, the phone. She tells him to empty the trash and bring in her mail because her chronic pain and macular degeneration do not allow her to do this.
The lists can overwhelm us and lead us to resentment. Unless we intervene, bitterness can wrap around our hearts. The Bible warns us about not letting the root of bitterness take hold, so I continually remind myself that I am a servant, first of Christ and then of my loved one. I can honor my mother by my willingness to meet her expectations, knowing she’s stuck in the house. She isn’t able to jump in the car and run to the store on a whim. Her isolation becomes a prison, and to her, small things become gigantic.
“The bills have to be paid right now, or I’ll get a late fee,” she’ll say. Or, “That lamp must be fixed today, or you’ll forget.” In her mind she’s merely reminding us, but to Mike and me it sounds like nagging.
This is the place where laying down my life again begins to wear on me. I’m exhausted from the effort. I want to be a servant, but my old nature rears its ugly head and says no.
Mike came up with a workable solution. When he sees the yellow sticky next to his plate, he asks Mom when she would like each task done.
“Do you need it done tonight?” he’ll ask. “Can I do it tomorrow after work? How about if I take care of that this weekend?”
We’ve found a solution that everyone agrees with. Mom is happy, Mike is happy.
“Most parents don’t want to be a burden,” says Taryn Benson, cofounder of Senior Care Solutions. “But there are unspoken expectations that kids will be there. ‘When will you be visiting?’ ‘How come you don’t call more often?’”1
The fact that there are often basic differences within families about daily goals is common, says Allison Heid, project director of the New Jersey Institute for Successful Aging. But these differences can obviously be a barrier to providing support.2
As you care for your aging loved one, it’s important to talk about these different—and sometimes clashing—expectations. Otherwise, they remain unspoken and can cause much discord. Before you begin a conversation with your loved one (assuming your parent is cognitively able to have such a discussion), bring it before God, asking the Lord to reveal issues in your heart and in your parent’s heart that may need His touch. And be sure to examine what you expect of yourself or what others expect of you. Are those expectations realistic?
When you are ready for a talk, begin by asking your parents to pray with you. This sets the tone for God’s grace to permeate your spirit and your words. Make sure you let your loved ones know that you want the best for them, and that this discussion will help meet that goal.
Consider asking your parents these questions to begin the conversation:
1. Think about your normal day. What part do you expect me to play in your day-to-day life? Do you assume I will help you in certain ways around the house, with errands, or financially? I want to make sure your needs are met, even if we may need to consider different ways to do this.
2. How can you clearly let me know what your needs are? I won’t be able to anticipate them. What system for communicating your needs will work well for you and for me?
3. Will it be possible for me to meet all of your expectations while maintaining my physical, emotional, and spiritual health? Or will we need to consider some other options? What can we do to keep both of us healthy and happy?
4. Have you thought of what will happen when you can’t live by yourself any longer? What are your expectations for the future?
Bring everything into the light, leaving no opportunity for the devil to gain a foothold in your relationship with your aging loved one. Finally, remember that your parents’ or siblings’ expectations are beyond your control. But you can control your expectations for yourself.
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From The Caregiving Season by Jane Daly
Caring for elderly parents is challenging. It’s a season of life that requires grace and strength that can only come from God. In The Caregiving Season, Jane Daly shares personal caregiving stories, offering practical advice to help you honor your aging parents well and deepen your personal relationship with Christ along the journey.
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[…] When Dorothy went on her quest for the Wizard of Oz (her ultimate destination being home), she was frightened by the prospect of lions and tigers and bears. Reflecting on Dorothy’s dismay, we are reminded that fear can easily sidetrack or paralyze us, especially when dealing with an aging parent. […]