Wednesday, September 30, 2009

New lessons from an old parent

At 88 years old, my mother is still teaching me new lessons.  When I was a newbie, she taught me things like talking, colors, shapes, letters and numbers.  Later, I graduated to tying my shoes, brushing my teeth, and writing cursive.

Being the adult child of an aging parent presents brand spanking new opportunities for learning. (I wonder what brand spanking means?)  I wrote about my mother in an earlier post and how our evolving relationship presents new opportunities to demonstrate what it means to follow the biblical mandate to "Honor your father and mother." Here are some of the things that she's teaching me now:

  • Patience.  You just can't rush the average 88 year old.  They don't move as fast as they used to and no matter how big a hurry that I may be in, I just can't speed them up.  She's like a governor on my engine and I've learned to move at a slower pace when I'm with her. I'm learning efficiency is not the name of the game in her world.  I have to be patient with her and learn to accept that we are only going to accomplish so much in each visit.
  • Listening.This is closely related to patience.  My mother is teaching me that older people frequently include many, painfully many, and often irrelevant details in the stories they tell. I'm learning to listen attentively and in doing so, to look for opportunities to steer the story to the conclusion.
  • Compromise. Contrary to what I had heard, roles do not completely reverse with an older parent.  They may relinquish some authority to their adult child but my mother stubbornly holds on to some level of authority.  That means that while she allows me some lattitude to make decisions for her, she doesn't give up complete control. That results in a compromises on many decisions and actions which leads to  . . .
  • Pick your battles.  Some things are just not worth battling over.  If my mother insists that there is only one acceptable brand of toilet paper, then that's the one I will buy for her.  Never mind that I can only buy it at the grocery store in town that's furtherest from her home, that's a battle that's not worth the effort. 
  • Set reasonable boundaries. If I want to be there for my parent for the long haul, I have to set reasonable, healthy boundaries.  Although none of us can know exactly how long a parent will be with us, we must live as though it's a marathon and not a sprint.  I cannot meet every need that she perceives and that's just going to have to be OK.  My mom swam out of the same gene pool that contained two aunts that lived past their mid-nineties.  There is no way that I can last another 10 years taking care of her if I were to surrender to her every desire.
  • Compassion goes a long way. Reversing roles and being tough on her hasn't worked out so well for me.  Old people don't respond to tough the way kids do.  Compassion and kindness go a lot further with her.  Don't kid yourself though  . . . being nice doesn't mean that my mom gives in and goes along with everything I want but it is proving to tip the scales in my favor. 
So what are the things that you're still learning from your parents?

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