Your Parent Isn’t Your Toddler

One of the most difficult issues I faced while caring for my parents was becoming aware of how much I did not know about how to care for them, and how much my relationship with them changed. It is very disorienting to realize you have become the parent to YOUR parent. We had traveled to new dimensions, and I wasn’t prepared!

I think I had an idea that my parents would never really change and that they would always be the lively, fun, witty parents from my childhood. My father had a stroke around age 60 before I was married and had children. He lost his sharp wit and some of his confidence after that. He also lost his job earlier than expected. This diminished him in ways many older people face – typically men from this “Silent Generation.”  But he persevered and moved with my Mom from Ohio to California to live in an active senior area to golf and travel and have fun. They did have fun, too. Very active. Very happy. And then they aged – slowly at first and then quickly at the end. To see them change so much – to have lost so much of what I was used to, and what I know they were used to – was heartbreaking. And recognizing changes in our relationship was difficult, also. I didn’t want to “parent” my own parents.

The challenge for me became taking on the role of helping them, maintaining healthy boundaries, and finding a way to treat them with the regard and respect they deserved from me. In other words, I had to learn how to care for them without treating them like toddlers.

What is the difference between parenting children and supporting parents?

Are we “parenting” our parents, or is it another dimension in the relationship?  There isn’t a great deal of literature along this line. Most articles identify this conundrum as particularly difficult, but it hasn’t really been identified as a space on the continuum of human development.

I recall a family friend whose father was in late stages of Alzheimer’s disease told me she was frustrated when people tried to console her by suggesting, “He’s not your father anymore.”  While the comment was likely offered with best intentions, she bristled. “He is still my father!”

While we hear about that spry 95-year-old who is as alert now as when he or she was 30, in general, all humans will experience some level of diminished capacity in terms of mobility, control of bodily functions, mental alertness, and judgment. It really does appear that as we age, we go from dependent to independent to dependent again. We start life wearing diapers and we seem to end life wearing them too. For those of us caring for aging parents, from an emotional standpoint, it’s just damn difficult to buy adult diapers alongside your toddler’s pull-ups.

Feelings of anger, disgust, sadness, despair, confusion, and even humor can enter the picture for the caregiver. This is normal. We are human and our reactions – whatever they may be – are normal. It is irrational to expect that we can witness this tremendous shift in our parents’ abilities and not experience strong emotions. This is a time when we need to be gentle with ourselves. We are socially conditioned to recognize the changes in our children. There are countless parenting books, endless tomes on child development to alert us to our children’s changing needs in body, mind, and spirit. There are books on the aging process, but we don’t tend to devour those with quite the same speed. Perhaps it is too hard emotionally to explore – so again – we must be gentle with ourselves.

Perhaps we need to check our mindset. When we can rationally acknowledge that this is in fact, normal and expected, and something we, too will likely experience, we can start to shift from a position of feeling overwhelmed, sad, disgusted or angry to acceptance

I recall the first time I had to buy diapers for my dad. I had such mixed feelings. I experienced shame at the register, hoping the checker didn’t think they were for me. I think I probably made a comment about getting these for my dad – ha, ha! It’s quite likely the checker at Costco didn’t look closely at any item in my stash. But I felt so strange buying them. Then I thought about my dad. How hard must it have been for him to ask me to pick them up for him?  I recall a time my mother had me pick up some Poise panty protectors for her. She was so sheepish in asking for them. She made a pretty big deal about indicating they were “not diapers, but panty protectors”.  When I stopped to think about how that must be for her, I found my compassion.

So what do we call this time period and how do we monitor our actions?  It’s caregiving, but it’s not parenting.  I think it is important to think through how we treat our parents during this time, too.  Talking to them like we talk to our children is not great role modeling for our kids, either.  But often thinking and judgment is impaired, especially for parents with any form of dementia.  There is a way to be direct, concrete and get the message across without sounding like we are talking to a toddler. It will take some practice, this directness.  But it is well worth it.

Mostly it’s important to remember that our parents likely don’t want it to be this way either. 

Go gently with yourself, and go gently with your parent!

Break the Taboo and Talk About Death!

Some topics just seem taboo. Like talking about death. Certainly, if you suspect that someone who is talking a lot about death may be suicidal, then, by all means, act to get help.

But what about discussing end-of-life issues? I fear we do not do this early and often enough as families. The thing is, we think about this in different ways at different ages.

When you’re single, just getting started in a career or flitting around trying to find yourself, then contemplating end-of-life issues may seem like a downer. But does it have to be? Maybe at this stage in life, writing something down about your wishes is more about taking responsibility for yourself and making sure someone can speak for you if you can’t speak for yourself. Write it down.

If you choose to start a family and have children, then the landscape changes drastically. Perhaps now it is important to ponder what you want to happen in order to protect your children. Write it down.

If you are heading into middle age or even pre-retirement, then the focus might be more on to what extent you want certain measures to take place. To what extent do you want to have your life extended? This may be the same or it may have shifted. Take a look. Discuss it with people you love and who may be in a position to make your wishes known. Write it down.

When you are a senior and looking at the horizon with a different perspective, then it’s a good time to check in on those wishes. To what extent do you want to stay in your home? To what extent do you want your family to care for you? To what extent do you want your financial resources to go to keep you in your home? What’s your greatest concern about the end of life? What sorts of measures do you want to happen to extend your life? What is acceptable to you and what is not acceptable? What’s most important? Write it down.

If you are married or in a partnership, make sure the two of you do this together.

Best to do this in the form of a will and if you haven’t done it yet. A will is essential to avoid the cost of probate. While probate is not always horrible, it means the “state” will determine how your assets are distributed. Even if you think you have nothing, you likely have something. Do you want to have a say in where it goes? Write it down.

Forming a trust for your money and any assets also protects those assets.

Next – if you want your children to care for you rather than going into Assisted Living or Nursing home, you need to plan for that financially. Make this a savings priority. That is the greatest gift you can give your children. Talk to them about this. And of course, Write it down.

I cannot stress enough how important it is for families to talk, talk, talk and talk some more about their end of life wishes, to communicate them and to write them down. The time to make these types of decisions is well before the crisis hits. The time to save money is not at the end.

My children are adults now – young adults – and they have created legal documents detailing their wishes for the end of their lives. They’ve named people who they want to help make sure those wishes are carried out. They used a document anyone can use. It’s called “Five Wishes”.

You can get it at: http://www.FivesWishes.org

Finally, if you want your family or others to be involved in your care at the end of your life, then the best you can do is build a good relationship with your children and others such that they WANT to care for you, you take care of your finances such that your children have the funds necessary to carry out your wishes, and you make your wishes known.

Write it down.

Embracing Life at Death Cafe

Talking about death is awkward for most of us.  It’s not an easy cocktail or happy hour topic.  But I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how to encourage this very subject. 

So I searched the web for tips. 

When I came across a Meetup group called Death Café, I was intrigued.  While intrigue was high, I was too busy to go.  And, if truth be told, it seemed rather odd.  Would it be filled with Goths or artists focused on El dia de los Muertos?  Was it for folks who were dying, had recently lost someone, or some other reason?  The post for the Meetup simply spoke to talking about death in a comfortable setting, and the mention of cake.

About four months later, at a networking meeting, someone mentioned wanting to go to a Death Café.  Bingo.  I was again intrigued.  I found the time and place and plugged it into my calendar. 

I arrived a bit after 1 pm at a lovely home in a Sacramento neighborhood.  I was probably 5 minutes late.  The conversation had already started.  The phrase, “death waits for no one” immediately popped into my head, but I held my tongue.  Is humor okay?  Should we joke about death?

The phrase, “death waits for no one” immediately popped into my head, but I held my tongue. 

As I settled in, I heard people introduce themselves and what brought them to Death Café that sunny afternoon.  People were there for a variety of reasons.  Some were facing a terminal illness or lifelong, threatening health condition. Some were grieving a family member.  One was grieving a pet, which hit him with such force that he felt compelled to explore his fear of death.  Some worked with people who were facing the end of life.  Some were just searching or curious about death.  I mentioned that I wanted to learn how to talk to people about dying – how could I encourage people to talk about end-of-life wishes and consider this a gift to those they left behind rather than a morbid task that would evoke fear and guilt and sadness?

The facilitator, a lovely woman who lost her first husband years ago and has since found a calling for assisting dying people at the end of their lives, shared that Death Café was founded by Jon Underwood who had envisioned a place where people could meet to talk through their fear, curiosity and any other feeling about death, consider how to live in the present and share tea and cake.

Jon Underwood had simple guidelines for Death Café.  It must be a safe place with confidentiality, it must be free of charge and no one should be there to sell a service or materials, and there should be tea and cake.  The tea and cake – or other refreshments – are a means of nourishment and sustaining life.  When we share food with each other, he believed, it is an act of the living, and while talking about death we can be more fully present to the gift of life in the moment.

The tea and cake – or other refreshments – are a means of nourishment and sustaining life. 

What I found at Death Café were people who sincerely wanted to talk openly about their struggles, their fears, their questions and their experiences without fear of judgment. No one was forced to share. Some shared a lot.  Some shared a bit.  Everyone listened. There was humor as well.  One gentleman inserted several puns or wry comments.  I suppose my “death waits for no one” thought could have landed well. Over the two hours, there was a palpable level of intimacy between strangers that was, indeed, life-giving.  People opened up about a topic that touched them in familiar yet deeply unique ways, which was both compelling and comforting. I left feeling lighter, optimistic, clear.

On the whole, we don’t talk about death much.  There is a lot of focus on being present, being mindful, and that is good.  What I found at Death Café was the ability for both to coexist.  In fact, I found that being present to life made talking about death simple, elegant even.  To talk about death is to talk about life. 

Death Cafés are held in over 56 countries.  You can Google Death Café and find one near you, or find a way to start your own.

“Life and death are one thread, the same line viewed from different ends.” Lao Tzu

Tough Choice? OWN Your Decision

A few months ago, I was with a group of friends, and while talking with two women, I learned how one was now caring for her Mother In Law.  It was a change in plans for her and her husband, and it meant putting some things on hold.  The other friend talked about how her mother would likely come live with her and her husband when necessary.  Both felt very positive about their decisions, even if it meant life changed or would change.  I did not get a sense of “Poor me.  This is such a burden.”  It was a life choice and they could own it.  That is powerful.

There are many ways we can care for our aging parents.  Many people are able to age in place and stay in their homes. Some will move in with family. And then some will need more care for any number of reasons. My parents both had had good experiences with their aging parents living in Assisted Living facilities.

For my mother, it was a relatively easy choice.  We lived in Ohio and my grandfather lived in Oakland, CA.  He fell and broke his hip and had to go to a Skilled Nursing Facility for some time.  My mother’s Aunt, who also lived in the Bay Area, was able to find a place that was attached to an Assisted Living program, so that made the transition easier.  My grandfather lived another 13 years.  He thrived with the interaction and community. I believe he was quite popular, especially with the ladies!

My Dad’s parents moved to a community that also offered a continuum of care.  My grandfather needed a lot more help than my grandmother, initially, but she had long given up driving by that time, so for her, being in a place that gave her opportunities for an increased social life was wonderful.  She also became quite the popular diva!

So when my parents retired and moved from Ohio to Roseville, CA, they had already secured a long-term healthcare plan that would provide for Assisted Living.  They were adamant that this was what they wanted.  They did not want to live with any of us, three kids. They knew what they were getting into because they had thought long and hard about it.

Eventually, they did choose to live in an Assisted Living facility. They picked it out after we looked at many. They liked it because their doctor told them his parents were there. Recommendations, my friends! Like a good restaurant! Apartment for two – no waiting. It worked for them for a while, but eventually, when they each needed more care, they were able to move to another lovely place, that cost an arm and a leg. But that Long-Term health care insurance they had purchased really came through. They were able to choose what they wanted for themselves and for us kids.

However, after my father died, a friend of my parents called me to tell me I should have my mother come live with me.  Take her out of “that place,” he insisted. He was adamant that this is what she would want, even if it meant having a hospital bed in our living room, which is what he did for his mother years ago.  When I told him I knew quite well what my mother’s wishes were, he told me I didn’t really know her and that I was wrong.  I definitely struggled with this feedback, and I resented it.  Who was he to tell me he knew my mother better than me?  I felt judged.  I felt shamed!

I believe he meant well. I don’t believe for a minute he wanted to hurt me in any way. In some way, perhaps, he needed to justify his own choice for his mother. But, there are many ways we can care for our parents.  If we make those decisions with our heart and with love for not just our parents, but our own families’ needs as well, then we generally make the best decisions.  There is no one right way.

In fact, I often say, “There are multiple right answers to most questions!”

We hear of “Mommy shaming” these days.  There’s Sandwich Generation shaming, also.  This is NOT helpful.  This doesn’t move the discussion forward, and it doesn’t serve any person.  Only you know your family, your parents, your unique “big picture.” Do what you can to make the most empowering decision for you, and it is likely to be the best.

Then, OWN IT!

I’ve come to believe the best thing we can do is own our decision.  Owning our decision gives us the power to make the best decisions moving forward.  Talking with more and more Sandwich Generation folks – like my friends – is making that abundantly clear. So number – let’s be kind out there! And number two – let’s own our choices!

It’s Okay. You’re Not A Bad Mom.

Today I got my latest edition of People Magazine.  I know. I know.  But it’s my one guilty pleasure-read each week.  I fit it in between The New Yorker and The Atlantic Monthly – both of which take me much longer to read.  Not as many pictures.  Good cartoons, though.

I digress.

This week’s People Magazine featured a rosy and pregnant Meghan Markle, aka Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Sussex on the cover.  She is beaming.  Inside there were all sorts of little details about a recent baby shower held in NYC by all of her American friends, like Serena Williams.

What caught my attention was Serena Williams saying she gave Meghan all sorts of advice.  Not bad, getting advice from Serena Williams!  But I recall that Serena had a lot of challenges with the birth of her daughter and just after with postpartum depression.

My kids are both adults now, but like most women I remember each birth as if it was yesterday.  I also recall getting a serious case of what I thought was simply the “baby blues”.

I also remember getting a lot of advice.  Some solicited, but most of it not solicited at all.

Sometimes when I scroll through Social Media sites I still see mommy and parent shaming.  I read about all kinds of parenting tips and a whole lot of “shoulds”.  People really enjoy “shoulding” on others – especially parents.

My kids are pretty amazing.  My husband and I have a great relationship with both, but I can tell you, there were many times when we looked at each other and wondered, “Was that a bad parenting choice?”  I still wonder, in particular, if I was a good mother.  Maybe I should have done this, should have bought that, and definitely shouldn’t have said that. 

See?  We even “should” on ourselves.

So when I read the article about Meghan and the advice she was getting, I wanted to give my own thoughts on parenting.  Not “shoulds.”  I wanted to tell her things I wish people had told me at different times during my motherhood journey: when I was a new mother, raising toddlers, beginning the school age years, entering the middle school dramas and surviving teen-hood and college apps.

So here goes:

  • You might have second thoughts about having a child while you’re having another contraction. And then another.  You might want to give up. It’s Okay.  You’re Not A Bad Mom.
  • Sometimes you won’t want to read “Guess How Much I Love You” because you find yourself sobbing the whole time.  It’s Okay.  You’re Not A Bad Mom.
  • Sometimes you’ll resent getting up again to nurse at 3:00 am because you just got back to sleep at 2:30 am from the last feeding.  It’s Okay.  You’re Not A Bad Mom.
  • Sometimes you’ll want to go back to work because you want to talk to someone who can string together multisyllabic words.  Coherently. It’s Okay.  You’re Not A Bad Mom.
  • Sometimes you’ll want to have one night with your partner or husband.  Alone.  Just the two of you.  It’s Okay.  You’re Not A Bad Mom.
  • Sometimes you might let your children watch one more episode of an inane TV or web show because you really need to pee, cook, get laundry in the wash, dry your hair.  Whatever.  It’s Okay.  You’re Not A Bad Mom.
  • You might get bored hearing the piano piece or the trombone piece or the (please God, no!) recorder piece one more time before the recital, or even fake a call so you can put in your earbuds and listen to some REAL music for a while. It’s Okay.  You’re Not A Bad Mom.
  • At some point you might take your 10 year old to a PG-13 movie because the movie your 13 year old wants to see is a lot more interesting than the G movie in the theater down the street. It’s Okay.  You’re Not A Bad Mom.
  • Some day you might drop an F-bomb in front of your children and a few friends when they run through the house with muddy shoes across your newly installed carpet. It’s Okay.  You’re Not A Bad Mom.
  • You might eat the last sleeve of the Thin Mint cookies in the freezer even though child number two LOVES thin mints, because, well.  They. Were. There. It’s Okay.  You’re Not A Bad Mom.
  • You might buy a $5.00 Little Caesar’s Pepperoni Pizza every night for a week just before taxes are due in April. It’s Okay.  You’re Not A Bad Mom.
  • You might help out too much on that school project that you heard about the night before it was due. But just this once! It’s Okay.  You’re Not A Bad Mom.
  • You might not have the energy to listen, or cook, or clean or do much of anything when you are consumed by your grief over losing your own mother. It’s Okay.  You’re Not A Bad Mom.

     The thing is, you are okay.  You’re not a bad mom.  Motherhood isn’t always fun.  Post Partum depression is a real thing, and please do see your doctor if you are more than a little weepy.  You’re not a bad Mom if it gets tough and you feel like you are doing it all wrong.  Your life will be tough, too.  Work.  Friendships.  Sandwich Generation. Grief and loss. 

You’re not a bad Mom if you worry about being a bad Mom.  You’re human.

      The one thing I say to parents is always – be gentle with yourself.  Be as gentle with yourself as you will be with your kids when they are downhearted or sad or frustrated.  Be as gentle with yourself as you are with a friend who is hurting.

     It’s Okay.  You’re Not A Bad Mom.

Signs Your Parent Needs More Help

There are some great articles on the web that can give you information about what signs to look for to tell you if your parent needs more help.  Next Avenue and A Place for Mom are two that have good information.  Common items are:

  • Difficulty with Activities of Daily Living (often referred to as ADLs)
    • Cooking
    • Bathing
    • Home maintenance and cleaning
    • Running errands
  • Frequent Falls
  • Driving difficulty
    • Look for dings on the car
    • Traffic violations
    • Limiting driving – if this is unusual
  • Social Isolation
  • Forgetfulness
    • Missed appointments
    • Getting lost
    • Trouble recalling routines
  • Not taking medications properly
  • Emergency room visits or increase in frequency
  • Money management issues – if this is out of the ordinary
    • Missed bills
    • Missing money

The Changes are the Key!

We can all be forgetful, or go through periods of withdrawal, or fall or any of the above things.  But it is the change in behavior, change in patterns that is the key. And as we age, it is normal and natural that some things take more time or effort.  My grandfather who lived to be 99 once told me, “My decades are starting to blend together.” 

I get that!  I’m only in my fifties, and when someone says the 1980’s are old or retro, I think, “that was last week!”

So pay attention and start noticing.  Look for patterns, and look for changes in patterns or behavior.  Be aware that new patterns or behaviors are not in and of themselves harmful or suspicious, however.  Change is also a good thing.  Learning new things is great for our brains, after all.  But consider if the change is enhancing everyday life, or limiting it.  Is the change to avoid a necessary or vital activity, such as socializing, or is it detracting from it.

You May Not Be the First to Notice

Also – you may not be the best person to notice.  Sorry to tell you this, but you may be biased and make excuses for your parent.  You aren’t biased because you are stupid or unable to make good judgments.  You may be a bit biased due to confirmation bias.

What’s confirmation bias?  That’s when we are directly influenced by the desire of our beliefs.  We want something to be true, or we don’t want it to be true.  So when we have a lot at stake emotionally – like with our kids or with our parents or other loved ones – we don’t always see what others see.  We see what our desires want us to see, and we don’t see what doesn’t match our desires.  We may actually be in denial because we don’t want to see it.

Again – not because we are stupid.  It’s because we are human.

So what can we do?

Seek Feedback.

I suggest talking to others.  Talk to siblings, if this is productive.  But also talk to others who are not as emotionally attached.  Talk to neighbors.  Not gossiping, but check in with them.  Get to know friends of your parents, and maybe ask if they notice anything out of the ordinary.  Let them know you are willing to hear from them.  People want to help others.  More than we think, really.  But a lot of people stand on ceremony, and consider talking to an adult child of a neighbor as being unfaithful to their friend. They might feel it is “not their place.” Let them know you care about your parent, and that they can call you if they are aware of emergencies and other concerns.

Do your parents have regular cleaners or hired help?  If it is a service and different people come each time, then these are the people to ask.  But if your parent has a weekly or monthly cleaner, this person will likely notice changes in needs.

My parents’ neighbors and friends were so helpful to me in this way.  I definitely did not want to see how impaired my parents were becoming.  When a neighbor called to tell me that the garbage cans were forgotten now and then, I listened.  When I took my Mom to her friend’s 75th birthday, she pulled me aside at one point and shared concerns about my mother’s memory and how she had stopped coming to their book club.  My aunt called to tell me she was concerned about my mother’s memory.  All of these people helped me to see what I didn’t want to see, even though I visited my parents a couple of times a week.

It is also helpful to get a professional evaluation from a geriatric case management team.  If your parent has a long-term health insurance plan this may be paid for under the plan.  Check with your parent’s doctor – a physician may be able to give you some information about services within the medical plan, or direct you to who might know more.  You can also hire a Geriatric Case Manager.  There are more and more people heading to this profession.  Also search for Healthcare Advocate – these professionals can also lend support and guidance.

When To Start?

            Probably now.  Sorry!  But if you are going to take on supporting your parent or parents in some capacity, it is never too late to start taking notice of patterns of behavior.  If you get a sense of what is happening when things seem normal and healthy, then it is likely you will notice changes later.  In Case Management, we call this getting a baseline.  You don’t have to take data like a researcher.  But start to notice daily routines.  What are your parents hobbies, social habits, basic home care routines? 

            Take some time to reach out to neighbors, if possible.  Do you know your parents’ friends?  If you are comfortable – trade phone numbers.  Like I said – most people want to help, but they often don’t know how to help or who to contact.

            Our goal in all of this is to be able to best support our parents.  Their habits will naturally change over time.  Most of those changes will makes sense in some way.  But if something seems, well, weird, then it probably is.  But check it out with someone else.  Look for changes in routines and patterns.  It may be strange, but when we are closest to someone, we don’t always notice what’s under our noses.

            Do you recall that old adage about raising children, “It takes a village?” I think it takes a village to care for each other, as well.  Start building your village!

Was this helpful? Are you noticing changes in your parents’ needs and routines? What is working for you?

Surviving Empty Nest Syndrome

Parenting presents a crossroad every time you turn around.  Becoming an Empty Nester is one of the bittersweet ones.

In August 2018 my husband and I dropped off our youngest, a daughter, at college.  Now we are officially Empty Nesters. 

I cannot think of a more poignant crossroads for me at this time. 

Over 21 years ago, when we welcomed our first, a son, I was at the other end of that crossroads.  I know it isn’t over yet.  Is parenting ever over?  Texts, emails and phone calls would certainly suggest it’s not!

But for the first time in over 21 years, my husband and I will not be considering what one of our children might need that day, or contemplating calendars, carpools, school events, school projects, college applications, laundry loads, unfinished chores lists (and effective nagging strategies to promote completion of said chore list) or what to cook for dinner or who might actually be there. 

After successfully depositing our daughter at a university in Los Angeles, we headed to Disneyland.  So cliché, I know.  “You just dropped your youngest child off at college! Now what?  ‘We’re going to Disneyland!’”  But we had a few days to kill before heading to a family event with my in-laws, so we headed to the “Happiest Place on Earth” to dry our tears of joy, exhaustion, fear and heart heaviness. 

It backfired.

All I could think about was the last time we were there with our two kids.

We were not a yearly Disney family.  In 21 years we went probably 4 times.  But I recalled each visit.  In Disney Vista Vision!!  Fantasyland with our daughter for her 3rd birthday.  She loved the rides but did not love the characters.  My son, who couldn’t get enough of them.  Tarzan’s Tree House where both were a bit frightened when the leopard roared.  Indiana Jones ride, where my son, traumatized after his first ride at age 6 declared, “I hate that ride!”  The Silhouette Studio on Main Street that chronicled the changing shape and character of my children over the years.  So many memories. 

And we were witness to so many families making new memories.  It was beautiful.  It was overwhelming.  I choked up.  I cried.  I laughed.  And eventually, it worked. 

We rode the rides together again.  Just the two of us.  No need to figure out who needed to be with whom.  Who liked rollercoasters, who didn’t?  Who liked water rides, who didn’t?  Who throws up on the Teacups, and who doesn’t. 

No Teacups for either of us, this time, thank you!

Obviously both of us will carve out a new normal.  We’ll have time and space to figure out new endeavors; rediscover old interests and new passions.  So in a sense, our proverbial “crossroad” looks more like the webbing of the Los Angeles interchanges we passed over and through on our way from Los Angeles to Anaheim.  Like those interchanges, it is about how we move through, move on and move forward.

Movement is good.  I’m excited for the challenge.  I know I’ll go through a whole new experience when I get back to our house and it is quieter and calmer, and when I have to go back to cleaning the kid’s bathroom, emptying the dishwasher, feeding the dog, picking up the dog poop, folding laundry, dusting…

The crossroads just keep coming.

When you find yourself approaching an Empty-Nest, or in the new-ness of being an Empty Nester, consider these strategies:

  1. Be gentle with yourself.  You might feel a wave of relief and glee, but then again, you might just feel some grief.  This is normal and natural.  While some of this grief may feel like depression, most studies suggest it is not, but rather a transitional phase – one that will pass along with time.  Look – it took some time to adjust to that child being there in the first place, right?  Give yourself and your partner or spouse time.  However, if crying (and crying is normal!) persists for a long period of time, or other symptoms of depression such as changes in sleeping, eating, hygiene or ability to take part in normal activities such as working persists, see a doctor or mental health professional.
  • Don’t rush to take over a child’s bedroom!  Before you redecorate the kid’s room, wait at least a month, if not more.  For one thing, your child will likely visit again, and it could be quite a shock, and a painful one at that, to come home to a completely changed room.  Consider instead, moving some of that kiddo’s things from other rooms into boxes to store elsewhere, or to store in a closet or under a bed.  You will eventually get the room back, but changing so quickly can bring up more adjustment glitches than you might be aware of initially.
  • Hold back on contacting your child.  I would highly recommend when you see your son or daughter off – to college, armed services, new job elsewhere, new living arrangement – that you expressly request that THEY make the first call, text or connection.  This is likely hard for them, too, but give your child time to adjust and make the first contact.  This is as much about their process as yours so give them space.
  • Celebrate and mark the occasion with a spouse, partner or friend.  If you are in marriage or relationship, make plans to mark the occasion somehow with something special.  It could be a night out at a restaurant never tried or an old favorite.  It could be a quick trip away.  It could be buying one new item for your house or garden – some sort of transitional object commemorating a new phase. This is a big deal, and it is good to acknowledge and mark it.
  • Find old friends or make new ones. This is a great time to reconnect with old friends.  However, it often happens that couples find their friend groups are really centered around their children – the other parents of the school, of the sport team, etc.  If this is the case, this is a good time to engage in some discovery.  One way is through community groups, or even Meetup groups, Eventbrite, or other social organizing sites that alert you to events in your area.  Think about a new skill or hobby your want to revisit or learn.  There is likely to be a class in a local park and recreation center or a Meetup or Eventbrite groups.  Many are free.
  • Create a morning or daily routine.  Having daily or morning routine can help you reconnect with yourself.  It is also a fundamental part of living with intention – mindful living that serves to keep you grounded and focused.  There has been a lot written about morning routines over the last few years, and most successful people point to a morning routine as a practice that keeps them sane and successful. Now with your child or children out of the home and time to do mornings, your way – experiment!  Try meditation, prayer, reading, yoga, essential oils, or exercise – maybe lovingly prepared tea or coffee.  Aim for a 30 to 60 minute routine that starts your day with the intentions you find in your heart.  Keep a journal – track how your practice impacts your life.

Put yourself first.  It will be a new practice, but one that will benefit not only you, but all those you encounter.  And remember strategy number one:  Be gentle with yourself!

Christy

The Hard Work of Being a Butterfly

It’s excrutiating to witness the pain of someone you love.  Whether that pain is physical, emotional or spiritual, it is almost overwhelming to witness knowing there is little you can do to really alleviate the pain. 

Sure, with physical pain you might be able to make the other person more comfortable.  You could give them pain meds if they have been prescribed.  You can adjust the environment as best you can – turn down the lights, quiet noises, maybe turn up some white noise, set the temperature to an ideal level, add scents or eliminate scents.  Whatever they need.

But with internal, emotional pain or spiritual pain there is little you can do but offer empathy, and sometimes empathy is just holding a hand and not saying anything.

Sometimes the best you can do is to not say or do anything. 

But inside, you hurt.  And this type of hurt is almost harder to bear.  You want to take it away.  You want to say just the right thing to give comfort.  You might even be ready to face their foes and drive them away.  In your body, you can feel your own ability to take on the pain!  “I’m strong enough!”  “I’ve been through this.”  “I can do this for you.”

But you can’t.

And even if you could fight their foes, should you? 

Every parent has dwelt in this sort of pain at one time or another.  It seems different at various stages.  When my kids were little, time passed quickly, and the internal foes were smaller, more manageable.  I am blessed that my children did not face the enormous traumas others have faced.  So I’m not speaking to abuse, neglect, loss and grief of significant proportions.  I’m talking about those little growing pains.

But even witnessing your child’s friend group and social milieu problems – lunchtime seating, recess play groups, birthday parties, theater or performance activities – every child faces little and big hurts here and there.  Rejection.  The yo-yo’s of  “In group – Out group” dynamics.

How much do you intervene?

We hear a lot about helicopter parenting these days.  It is a real issue.  I’ve seen it as a parent and as a school psychologist.  Doing too much for your kids can harm them.  You can’t fully learn how to find your voice if someone else is always speaking for you.

I’ve often shared the worm to chrysalis to butterfly analogy with other parents.  You watch a caterpillar turn into a chrysalis and then watch it struggle to break out of the shell.  If you interrupt or try to “help”, you actually harm the soon to be butterfly.  The process of breaking free is essential to the evolution of the butterfly.  They need that hard work to fly. So even though you just want to edge it out a bit, fold back one little, thin, wispy part…you can kill the butterfly, or at least impair its ability to ever fly.  And what is a butterfly that can’t fly?

But holding back is hard.

It continues to be difficult even when your children are grown and moving into adulthood.

In some ways it seems even harder because the there might actually be some traumas at this point, or at least the dramas seem quite a bit more intense, more significant.

Maybe because we are adults, too, these young adult growing pains feel more intense for us to witness.  Time seems to go a bit slower when witnessing your child heal from a broken heart.  Maybe that’s fresh for us, too, a bit too close to our own path through a broken heart from the past, maybe one that never fully healed.

I often encourage parents of Kindergartners to let their children carry their own backpacks.  If the backpack is too heavy, check to see what’s weighing it down.  Is everything in there necessary?  I can’t tell you how many parents have had to remove a favorite rock, large book from home, heavy toy or pair of favorite dress up shoes from a backpack.  “How did that get in there?” I often hear.

Clean out the backpack every evening and take a peek in the morning on the way out of the home.  You never know.  But allow a child to carry their own backpack.  This is one of the first steps in growing up.  It’s a strengthening step.  Building muscles for life.  “I can handle my stuff.”  It’s part of the chrysalis phase.

By the time each of our kids were about 4 and 6, when we took trips or went out and about, my husband and I would tell them they had to be responsible for what they brought along.  We weren’t going back for lost things.

But like all kids, mine were smart enough to know I carried a purse or small backpack.  Somewhere along the way I would get the question – “Can you put this in your purse?”

At some point I told them both I was not their Sherpa!

“What’s a Sherpa?”

“We’ll Google it when we get home so you can see, but it’s important that you carry your own stuff.”

But now that they are young adults I sometimes fantasize about being their emotional Sherpa.  I want to carry the pain.  I want to fight their foes. I know the right moves, the correct steps, the best lines, the secret path.

I want to open up that delicate chrysalis and peek inside to tell them it will all be okay.  They will only be stronger and they will be beautiful butterflies.  

But I can’t.

So I focus on taking care of me.  Because that I can do.  I can take care of me so that I am too busy to open the chrysalis.  I can take care of me so that I don’t become the Sherpa.  I focus on me so I can take the rocks out of my own backpack.  Out of my own purse.

And I try to fall back on listening.  Holding a hand.  Adjusting the emotional temperature as best I can.

Giving the Best Gift Ever

 

I wrote a brief article for my husband’s newsletter just in time for the 2018 Christmas Holidays. The concept is great for caregivers and those in the “Sandwich Generation” every day of the year.  Here it is, for the good of the cause!

The Best Gift Ever

Holiday time again! Rushing about, getting the house ready, decorating, cooking, attending work parties, holiday cards to buy, create and send out, neighborhood parties, buying gifts, wrapping gifts. And if your house has elves… Well, you know what that means. Time seems to fly and stress seems to soar to exponential heights. And as the stress piles up, the “Joy of Season” seems to dissipate like the helium out of a balloon that snagged on a sharp edge.

And there we are, flat on the ground.

Many of us run around at top speed trying to do it all a great deal of the time. During the holidays, though, it really feels compounded. There are quite a few expectations and quite a few triggers.

Our bodies, though, likely don’t know it is a special time that will soon pass. Our bodies just keep taking the hit. For me it is the neck area. I know I am feeling extra stress when my shoulders seem to be touching my ear lobes. Sometimes getting a full breath is a chore. And my eyes are tired from lack of good sleep. But like a lot of folks, I have always kept up the pace. Kept pushing along to get it all done.

Not a great way to show up in the world, is it?
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What to do About Jesus?

 

Trigger Warning! I refer to a picture of Jesus as” Jesus”. I mean no disrespect to any faith. This is not a religious post.

As long as I remember, my parents had a gilt-framed portrait of Jesus hanging in their bedroom. He came with them from Ohio to California in retirement, and moved with them to two different Assisted Living residences.

When they died, I inherited Jesus.

But this is not about faith, or religion or even about Jesus. It is about the crossroads we face with the clutter in our own lives and the clutter we inherit.

Now – how can I refer to Jesus as “clutter”? I’m not. It really is the picture of Jesus, but in our family, we came to call the picture…Jesus. It has been comforting, really. It reminds me of the faith of my parents, the faith in which they raised me, and the faith and spirituality I passed along to my children.

But back to clutter. I read an article about clutter this morning. It was very clear that clutter in our homes can lead to clutter and disorganization in our minds as well. One point was that, if we leave clutter behind, then we are leaving it for our children to handle.

This happened to me, which brings me back to Jesus. I inherited Jesus and a lot of other memorabilia, art, keepsakes, photographs, and documents. There was a ton of stuff to go through. My siblings live out of state, so they didn’t take much except valuables. And I get that!  It’s difficult and expensive to ship a box of stuff to sift through across the country.  They told me to simply throw things away.

Continue reading “What to do About Jesus?”