At some point in life most of us concede that our grown children are adults and turn over their management to themselves. But what happens when it becomes necessary for the adult child to parent the elderly parent? Who decides when that cross-over point is reached?
Some Seniors recognize when they are slipping cognitively and have prepared themselves for asking for and receiving help from their children, but they are the rare ones. More often, it comes about involuntarily during or after a crisis. What I’ve seen happen is the adult child decides that the parent must no longer live on her own but needs to be uprooted from her home and placed in an Assisted Living Facility, with or without the parent’s cooperation. This sort of decision is perhaps more apt to be made by a child who lives far away…problem encountered – problem solved.
But look at it from the perspective of the parent faced with being uprooted. Is it really necessary for her to be torn away from all that is familiar? Can another solution be found such as the use of technology to keep her safe and adjust for memory glitches? The end result may indeed be moving to a care facility, but giving the parent time to make the transition gradually by remaining in her home for a few more months or years benefits her greatly as long as she is safe.
I have been puzzling this out because of a situation in my own family where I can see both sides of the situation.
Many of us grew up hearing that old adage,
Use it up
Wear it out
Make it do
Or do without
And that is the reason there are so many old homes in Maine that are stuffed to the gills with the belongings of several generations. We who grew up with “practical savers” can tell you stories of the things to be found in parents’ or grandparents’ homes that defy reason.
I can remember my mother helping one of her cousins pack up her home to move. I was a young child, but neither my mother or her cousin thought it strange that her wringer washing machine, in the kitchen corner, was used to store the leftover waxed paper wrappings from her husband’s lunchbox. This had nothing to do with recycling and everything to do with not throwing anything away. Other than that the home was reasonably tidy.
Many decades later my husband and his sisters helped their parents empty a family home and move into a senior community. It took many visits to accomplish the job because, to his parents, nothing was considered worthy of being thrown out, but should go home with one of us.
I have been wondering why I see such quantities of relatively worthless stuff in people’s homes. I remember when a client removed himself from the work we were doing to weep tears of rage and regret when he discovered the extent of his wife’s shopping addiction. She was no longer around to keep her secret but she had stashes of stuff, some of it new and unopened, that she had purchased from cable TV shopping channels. Now her husband was left to dispose of this stuff in order to put the house on the market.
A recent article in the New York Times gives some of the clearest explanations of this relatively recent phenomenon.
“The cascade began 25 years ago, when China started to export huge amounts of cheap clothes, toys and electronics. Cut-rate retailers and big-box stores encouraged us to stockpile it all.And we did. A study of middle-class families in Los Angeles found that just one in four families could fit a car in its garage. (It also found that mothers’ stress levels rose as they described their household mess.) Americans who struggled to afford health insurance and college could nevertheless buy lots of stuff, sometimes on credit.”
How do you tell a hoarder from an enthusiastic collector? Hoarders collect things but collecting is not the same as hoarding. It is considered hoarding when things have accumulated to such a degree that it hampers proper use of a room and/or poses a safety risk. Hoarding is more properly defined as the acquisition of and failure to discard a large number of possessions that appear to be useless or of little value. If you suggest getting rid of any of it the person reacts with fear or anger. Worse, if you do anything about it, like clean up while they are gone, you have made an egregious error and a breach of trust.
Some people have grown up in homes that were chronically overflowing with miscellaneous possessions and this was accepted as normal. Some of you may have cringed at the thought of bringing friends into your home because you knew your home was really far from normal. Very often it is one parent that is the hoarder and the other one accepts the situation in order to keep the peace. In other situations you notice that your aging parent is hanging on to inconsequential things that they normally would have thrown out such as junk mail and you wonder why. In both cases the parents seem to lack insight into their situation and are unaware that this could be a problem for anyone else. Continue reading Is it Collecting or Hoarding?
Have you ever thought of becoming a coach for your parent when he or she is faced with downsizing or even just bringing some order out of chaos? Here are four words to use with them as they go through their accumulations of stuff: no shame – no blame. Keep repeating it when you sense they are getting bogged down by the emotions that memories produce. No shame – no blame. No one gets through life without having some regrets. The mind tends to get hooked on memories that were negative or things that were left uncompleted. Casting blame or dwelling on guilt drains energy. Remind your parent that this is a good time to forgive someone else and forgive themselves. This is good soul work as well.