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Posted: July 19, 2004

Practical Caregiving

The Parental Push-Me-Pull-You

What?s a caregiver to do? First, your parents can?t live with you, then they can?t live without you. And you? What about your feelings in the matter? At times you must feel like Dr. Doolittle?s famous Push-Me-Pull-You two-headed llama, going in both directions at once, but going nowhere fast.

That?s the case with two letters pulled from my emailbag. Cindy says wants to take care of her mother, but her mother has a bad habit and wants to live somewhere else. And Diane?s father wants to live with her, but she had to ask him to leave because he?s something of a freeloader.

While Cindy and Diane are facing issues moving in different directions, they both come down to the age-old question, ?How should I deal with my parent?s need and mine?? There are just about as many answers to the question as there are variations in the situation.

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Dear Jean:

I too am now taking care of my Mom. I?m having a hard time, but I will not put her away like everyone tells me to do. She is 81 and has been blind since she was 11 years old. She raised five daughters, but the others are not doing much to help. I love my Mom. I had to take something away from her and it is breaking my heart. She has smoked for 35 years but I took her lighter away at bedtime, when I have to go out, or when we go to church. She burned her hair and two dresses. Now, she is mad at me and wants to live somewhere else. Any suggestions?

Cindy A., Colorado Springs, Colorado

Dear Cindy:

It is very common for one child in the family to take care of their parent while the rest go about living their own lives. You will always know you took care of your mother when she needed you. That knowledge and peace will be worth everything you are doing now. Please be sure to talk to your sisters about your mother even though they don?t help with her care. I?m sure they appreciate what you are doing.

You are facing a couple of dicey situations with your mother. First, she has been in control of her life for a long time and doesn?t want to give up that control -- or her independence. The second situation probably presents a bigger problem, however. Addiction to cigarettes. I used to smoke, and I know what it?s like to ?need? a cigarette when you don?t have one. Every smoker will tell you that when they run out of cigarettes and can?t get any for a few hours, they will go though pockets, drawers, even the trash to find at least part of a cigarette to smoke.

In the case of your mom, try to find something that is safe to briefly take the place of a cigarette. A cough drop or piece of candy might help. I don?t know anything about the patches and other things that help with nicotine withdrawal, but that addresses only part of the problem. The other part is her need to do something with her hands. Why don?t you get one of those balls she can squeeze, or something else she might like to fiddle with in her hands?

You definitely need to protect your mother from herself. Continue to draw the line for her safety and don?t give in. Explain why you need to do that and she will eventually stop protesting so much and hopefully no longer want to move. Try to ?spoil? her at the same time. Tell her how much you love her, and give her a piece of chocolate or something else she likes. If she gets upset in the middle of the night because of her addiction, why don?t you get up and stay with her while she smokes that cigarette. She will relax and probably sleep the rest of the night, which will help you sleep also.

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Dear Jean:

My story is. . . I took in my 72-year-old father. On another occasion he bounced from home to home, living with other people. He is an immigrant, and our family grew up with not much of anything. My father is a carpenter and made spectacular things for other people. He only produced a couple of shabby things for us. He always seemed to have money in his pockets for himself and to buy coffee for the guys.

While living in our home, he has gone twice to his homeland and places around the United States while we struggle to maintain this old house. He does pay us a small monthly amount for his stay/keep, but hates us for taking that much! In fact, he has so much deceitful anger in general that he constantly makes power plays, but he's the only player. The ?king? has pushed so much I asked him to leave. Why don?t I feel guilty?

Diane T., Mobile, Alabama

Dear Diane:

Your father must be healthy, have all his mental facilities and ample money. It sounds like he doesn't need you to take care of him. Given the situation you outlined, I don't think I would feel guilty either.

I hope you can get over the anger you have toward your father. It won?t do anything to change him or show him how much you dislike the way he treats all of you. It will only hurt you, both physically and mentally. Is there someone you can talk with about this situation? Is there a minister or counselor you trust not to repeat what you say? You really do need to get over the anger, hurt and pain he caused you.

Your first allegiance must be to your immediate family. Perhaps some day you can mend fences with your father, but that time must be when he is ready to say he is sorry for all the hurt he caused. It must be when he is ready to change. It isn't right for him to take advantage of you or to cause you so much heartache that you ask him to leave.

I don't think you should feel guilty about preventing your father from upsetting your life and the lives in your family. You should not let him do that.

© 2004 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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