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I have been seeing a pattern in too many clients lately (mostly women who are the ‘caretaker’ type) who are feeling exhausted, guilty, bitter, angry and resentful.
The reason? The demands of their parents/aging parents.
WARNING: What you are about to read is raw, honest and blunt. (That’s how I roll!) If you are easily offended, immature, entitled, narcissistic, lazy, selfish or politically correct, you may opt out of reading further. (However, you are probably the one who needs to read this the most!) If you are a person who is sincere about having an authentic, loving relationship with your family members; one with mutual respect, accountability and proper boundaries, then set aside some time as this is a lengthy post, and please read on…
Part of my job as a hypnotist, NLP practitioner and energy worker is to help people release the stress and burdens they carry. It never ceases to amaze me how a big percentage of these burdens involve someone’s parents. The number one sentence I hear from clients is, “I feel OBLIGATED.” This isn’t coming from a space of love or caring. The resentment people feel creates havoc in their health, relationships and well-being.
Here are a few “clips” of some clients’ stories:
- A 68 y.o. woman visits her 87 y.o. mother at the nursing home daily, even though the mother (who has always been a hurtful, mean woman) constantly berates the daughter; tells her she’s fat; complains about everything, and doesn’t appreciate the efforts of her daughter. (Thus, the 68 y.o. daughter goes home and fills her mouth with cookies and cake after every visit with her mom; wondering why she can’t seem to lose any weight.) She, herself, is exhausted, lonely and has no social life because her self-esteem is shot after listening to her mom tell her for decades that she’s worthless. Yet she continues to seek her mother’s approval.
- A 40-something y.o. woman with kids, a husband and a job, spends most of her nights and weekends visiting her mom in the assisted living facility, so as to provide ‘company’ for her mother who refuses to make friends of her own. The mom is always calling her daughter to pick this up, drop this off, or take her to her doctor’s appointments (even though there is a shuttle service available). In the meantime, the daughter is missing out on precious family time with her own husband and kids. She’s becoming like a martyr trying to be the “good daughter” and complains that her siblings aren’t doing enough. She is carrying 45 extra pounds and doesn’t feel attractive to her husband any longer; so going to see her mom gives her a convenient excuse/distraction to avoid an intimate relationship with her spouse.
- A 58 y.o. woman with increasing health problems of her own is feeling trapped by her 80 y.o. mother. This daughter wants to move to a better living space where she would be happier, but her mother, who lives in the same town, puts on the “woe is me, who will take care of me?” guilt trip to her daughter (even though the mom is perfectly capable of taking care of herself.) The 58 y.o. daughter is too young to give up her dreams, but feels stuck, and feels “older” by the minute as she has no hope for being free to live her own life or meet someone special as she’s always at her mom’s beck and call.
- A 44 y.o. man gets one or more phone calls a day from his mother. Although the mom is only in her mid-60’s, she has taken poor care of her own health. She’s obese, a smoker and it’s everyone else’s fault. The mom depends on the son to make her feel better, to be her sounding board and to listen to all her complaining. The dad tuned out years ago, and just ignores his complaining wife. So the son gets the brunt of hearing negative things about his father from his mother. (This is the way it has been since the son was a teenager living at home.) He’s exhausted from listening to the ‘same old story,’ but feels guilty if he doesn’t pick up the phone when his mom calls.
I could give you dozens more stories like these. But I think you get the picture. To me, it is heart-breaking to hear what is going on in these family relationships.
I don’t think it was meant to be this way.
So I’m going to give you some bold statements about ways to create better family relationships and establish better boundaries. (These are my professional opinions based on years of observing these same patterns.) I am writing this to parents of ALL ages because whether you are an aging parent, have an aging parent or are a parent of young children, this will impact you.
Before I go on, I want to be very clear here. Caring for others, including our aging parents, is an honorable act, especially when it is done with a GOOD HEART, a GIVING HEART and a LOVING HEART. We are all called to love one another, be kind to one another and to help each other. And the truth is that we ALL are going to need some kind of help at different moments in our lives, no matter our age. “Life” happens and tough circumstances may call for us to have to make bigger sacrifices to help our loved ones. Some with physical or mental disabilities may require a bigger commitment of care. So as compassionate human beings, let’s continue to help one another.
However, what I’m talking about here is something different. Somehow, the family dynamics got skewed along the way. Some parents began ‘expecting’ their kids to bail them out, carry their financial and healthcare burdens and pick up the slack rather than taking responsibility for themselves and their own livelihood.
Some aging parents spent a lifetime wasting their money on booze, drugs, cigarettes, gambling, junk food and worked in dead-end jobs and now are in poor physical and financial health because of their own poor choices. Kids having to pick up the slack for these parents can have feelings of begrudging obligation, guilt, resentment, anger and bitterness. Something has gone awry with how families were supposed to function and care for each other.
I’d like to help people get back on a healthier track. So here goes: (brace yourselves)…
- It is YOUR responsibility to take care of your kids until they are 18 y.o.
- It is YOUR responsibility to raise your kids to be responsible, mature adults.
(Once they are 18 y.o., you have the choice to assist them further as you see fit so as to help them get on their feet – or not; it’s a choice, no longer your responsibility.)
- It is NOT your kids’ responsibility to take care of you.
When your kids are under 18 y.o., you need to step up and be the parent.
When your kids are grown, they DO NOT become responsible for you – ever. They become responsible for THEMSELVES. YOU are always responsible for YOU.
- When your kids have lives of their own, their spouses and kids are their immediate family now. Their spouse and kids are their priority and primary responsibility; not you.
- It is YOUR responsibility to take care of you – period – always. This means the following:
~ taking good care of your own health
~ letting go of addictions and expensive habits (or seeking help to do so)
~ providing for yourself and your immediate family (spouse and kids)
~ living within your means
~ improving your situation, education or skill level
~ getting out of debt
~ planning ahead
~ having your own friends/social circle
~ creating your own fun and entertainment
~ having life insurance
~ having a positive attitude
~ saving enough for at least 3-6 months of living expenses
~ saving for your retirement
~ having enough saved (or insurance policies in place) to be prepared for future expenses and your long-term care needs such as caretakers, lawn care, housekeeping, transportation, assisted living, medical needs, etc.
- Notice in #5 above, I did not say your kids are responsible for any of these things – because they aren’t. Your kids are not responsible for your choices. And they should not be strapped or burdened because of your poor choices.
I personally know people whose aging parents feel it’s their kids’ obligation to take them in rather than put them in an assisted living facility. But the kids physically cannot care for their parents. Both parents are obese, and the kids physically cannot lift the parents to help them into the bathroom, tub or taking them for errands. The kids feel guilty; the parents feel angry. No one wins in this situation.
Another couple I know would like to accept his aging father into their home, but the father is a smoker and refuses to smoke outside. As this couple has a child with asthma, as well as pets who can’t be around the smoke, they cannot be caretakers for the father. Again, the couple feels guilty; the father feels angry.
When it comes to setting boundaries, especially with an aging parent who can be over-demanding or needy, it is perfectly okay to set limits on the amount of time you spend with them, run errands for them or offer to do chores. As long as they are safe and their needs are being met, you can establish parameters. (This can mean the difference between being a loving daughter/son or being a doormat.) Here are just a few examples:
“Mom, I can pick up groceries for you each Thursday, so have your list ready because I no longer will be able to pick up various items throughout the week.”
“Dad, I will call you Wednesday and Friday evenings so we can chat, but I no longer can accept your personal phone calls during my work days unless it’s an emergency.”
“Mom, I’d love to help you with your yardwork, but Saturdays are days I spend watching my kids’ sports activities. You’re welcome to come and watch them as well. I will come over on Monday after work, though.”
“I’m sorry you’re feeling lonely, mom. I’ll come visit as soon as the roads get better. In the meantime, I know there are all kinds of wonderful group activities at your church. Perhaps you should join one.”
Parents, these are things for you to think about. This may be a good time to start a conversation with your loved ones or begin pondering some choices for yourself. What kind of relationship do you want to have with your kids, or your own parents?
Maybe this resonates with you…maybe it doesn’t. But my hope is that it sparks a new way of looking at things.
Until next time,
Connie Kvilhaug, Cert. Hypnotist &