As children, we are conditioned to obey. It’s just who we are. It’s the track our child-brains will follow, like flocks of geese flying south or like lemmings going over a cliff.
A friend told me about her mother who now lives with her. Her mom insists on opening the mail—all of it—then hiding anything that might upset her daughter.
Just as much as we have the instinct to obey our elderly parents, they still have the instinct to protect us. Or demand things of us, or insist on their own way, even if it means making us completely nuts.
I’ve come to the realization that, as caregivers, we can’t blindly and obediently accept our parents’ demands. We have to set boundaries. My mind reels at the thought. My first instinct is to obey, and I can’t even envision what rules to put into practice. How do we decide what our boundaries are? What do we allow? Or not allow? It’s a whole world with which we are NOT familiar.
At a nursing home, the nurses have rules and the patients obey. Maybe screaming and crying and cursing, but they obey. If we have our parents at home, somehow, we have to establish boundaries that our parents can’t cross, just to keep ourselves sane. Yeah, right. Like that’s going to happen.
How on earth do we pull on our big-girl/big-boy panties and begin commanding our parents? It’s a terrifying chore requiring as much guts as facing a firing squad. But there really aren’t guns pointed at our heads. It just feels like it.
The worst, of course, is the keys to the car. Every elderly parent loves to have their independence. After 96 years, Mom is used to making choices, of going and being and doing whatever she pleased. Suddenly, now that she has moved in with me, she is stripped of that independence. They are at our mercy. And they don’t like it any more than we do. They seek to exert their will. We must exert ours. We are now the parents.
So, like it or not, we have to set rules, just as if we were in a nursing home. And I don’t know what rules to recommend. They seem to grow out of our day-to-day lives. Our parents didn’t know how to set rules when we were teenagers, any more than we know how to set them now. But set them we must. For our own sanity.
No, Mom, I’m not taking you to Wal-Mart at nine o’clock at night. No, Mom, you can’t use that dish in the microwave. No, Mom, you can’t wear that old, stained, raggedy dress. No, Mom, you can’t eat nothing but cherry tomatoes for breakfast. No, Mom, you can’t put pizza in the oven on a paper plate and set the oven to broil.
But one thing I do know. No, Mom, you can’t open my mail.