"She just miserable!" a client and a friend both said, exasperated by dealing with their aging parents.
However, both were feeling bad and sad that their relationships with their respective mothers weren’t stronger.
This got me to thinking that, if two women in just a short span of time had this issue, maybe there were a lot more people out there who are stuck in the sandwich generation and trying to make this click in their own homes and in their parents homes.
After digging a little deeper, it didn’t take long for us to come up with a plan to execute:
Quit Taking It Personally — Mom may be complaining that you don’t spend enough time with her but what is she not saying? Maybe she’s lonely, maybe she’s afraid she will die and nobody will notice for weeks, maybe she is fearful of losing her independence, maybe she can’t get around or see/hear as well and so she is getting out much less, maybe she is afraid she is ‘losing it?’ Take yourself out of the situation, and imagine (or ask her) what she is really feeling.
Put the Elephant on the Table — Schedule a time to have a real conversation. It may start like this, "Mom, I have been noticing that we are often getting into arguments when I come over." Or, "Mom I would really like to put some effort into making our relationship even better." It might not be easy, fun or simple, but I bet it will be valuable and eye-opening.
Make a Plan — As my client and I talked it out, she realized she really didn’t make much of an effort to see her Mom because it wasn’t pleasant. She was prepared to go to her Mom with a plan. She decided that she would make herself available to take her Mom grocery shopping once a week, she would phone her every second day, she would offer to take her out to the lake in the summer and she would offer some ‘entertainment’ in the form of a movie or card game twice a month. She would also invite her Mom to participate in the planning of all of the above.
Be Reliable — Just as you should be with your children and colleagues, say what you mean and mean what you say. Promise very little but ensure you can deliver. If you are not 100% sure you can deliver, say you will try your best, but don’t use the ‘p’ word.
Let them In — On the planning, on the discussion and on the decisions as much as possible. No one likes to be told what to do but ensuring they know that they are a player in the game and have something significant to contribute will go a long way.
Can you imagine the difference in a relationship that you were so purposeful, deliberate and intentional about improving?
At the end of the day what you don’t want to be saying is ‘I meant to do that’ — you want to be able to say you tried everything you could to make the relationship awesome.
If you try and it doesn’t work, so be it, but at least you won’t be saying, ‘I meant to do that.’
Stephanie Staples is a community correspondent for St. Vital. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org