Making What’s Hard a Bit Easier: Seven Strategies to Improve Your Relationship with Your Parents During COVID-19

 

 

Making What’s Hard a Bit Easier; Seven Strategies to Improve your Relationship with Your Parents During COVID-19


It’s mid-May, so those of us in Virginia are entering week 6 of stay-at-home orders.  Many of us have parents or close relatives that we cannot visit, either because they or we are isolating due to COVID-19.  First of all, give yourself credit for all the changes you have adjusted to.  It’s a lot, whether you are at home by yourself or with other family members, roommates, or friends. 

Your parents may be older seniors in various states of physical and mental health, of the company of others, or desire or ability to see people. Some of them may be extroverts who are having a very hard time coping with staying at home and social distancing.

Some of them may not be social distancing the way that they need to, or that you think they need to.   If you have already had the conversation with them about why this is important, you may need to come to terms with the fact that at this point, you cannot control their behavior, only your response to it.

 If you need to set limits on seeing them because their behavior puts you or another loved one at risk, it may help to state this, not as a judgment (e.g., “I’m not going to visit you because you are being stupid” is not heard as well as, “Mom, I understand that playing tennis is important to you and your friends. You understand those risks, and I may not like your decisions, but I need to accept them. Please likewise understand that I need to stay isolated due to my health concerns, so we can look at other ways we can connect that are not in person.”  If they accept this, obviously that’s easier than if they don’t.  But ultimately, we need to acknowledge our own needs and own these decisions.

If they don’t, or they get defensive, try not to get hooked into an argument that doesn’t change their behaviors.  Yes, this is hard.  But, do you want to spend this time in a tug-of-war with them, or do you want a different relationship with them?

  They may be in varying degrees of digital ability or access. They didn’t grow up during the digital age, after all. Come to think of it, neither did I! But here are some ways you can stay connected with them, regardless.

What is most important to many of our parents, is their legacy. What they feel they have accomplished or valued in life?

The larger portion of their lives is behind them, not ahead. This does not mean they don’t have meaningful days or plans; of course,  we all need to have that!  But it means that a big way to connect with them now is through their sense of legacy. So these are ways to do it.

First, ask yourself this:  When I look back on this time, during this crazy year when I couldn’t see my parents like I wanted, what do I want to know that I did? What do I think I’ll be happy I did (or didn’t do)?

 

  • Start with the Practical:  Work out a daily “check-in” plan with them, such as texting or calling you daily by 12noon, so you all know you are ok, conscious, and that if you don’t hear from each other, you’ll give a few hours grace period before calling another person they have regular contact with. If you still get no answer, the next step will be 911. Again, discuss this with them as good planning.
  • Work out a contingency plan for “if you (or they) get sick”, with a list of who to call, what medications to pack, and a list of medications, doses, and doctors that they can share with you.  In the event that they do become unwell, you will be prepared and will have this on hand.  
  • Now that that’s done, work on increasing the satisfaction quotient of your relationship.  For example recount an important memory you have with them. Something you experienced, learned from them, or was impressed by. Even the sarcastic and not-exactly tender folks will still find this meaningful. I’ll never forget the time I told my Dad, years ago, years before his Alzheimer’s took over, “I not only love you, Dad, but I like you”, to which he replied, “Uh…Well, that’s your problem!”
  • Ask them something about their personal history. (What’s significant about the place they grew up, a job they had, etc.? Ancestry or family stories that are important? A musical instrument or sport that they played?) Even if you were not particularly close, you can still recall something about a car, work day, object that you both remember.  It’s something you can do to connect with them.
  • Ask them about a particular time in their life that was meaningful or game-changing for them. A time they got out of a pinch, got a great job or travel opportunity, relationship, or even an object like a car or tool that they were able to do things with. You’d be surprised at how much information you’d get out of them.What was your favorite activity together, dish that they cooked, vacation you took? Let them know what it was, and ask what their favorites are or were.
  • Send them a care package. That is, if you think they will take care to wash their hands after they open it. It may contain favorite foods, books, a gardening kit, or something else that they value that they can do or enjoy.  Skip the mug or tote bag, or plant unless that’s something they will particularly love. One more thing to take care of or to add to clutter, may not be as appreciated.
  • Ask for advice. Yes, the thing that most parents give, unsolicited, in spades, our entire lives, right?   Whether it is advice on how do they make that particular soup, what can they suggest for painting or fixing your home?  Career advice – what was the best thing they did that helped them advance in their job, or keep it at the right time? And just let them give it. (Yes, there are times their advice may have driven you crazy. That’s the nature of things!)  If they can walk you through making a recipe, fixing an appliance, or some project while you are both on the phone or video calling, so much the better. This often drives their sense of purpose and gives you both an activity to do together. Which can also help to give them something to look forward to doing, in an area where there expertise or interest lies. 
  • Ask what would they like to be known for.  By you, people in their line of work or faith community, their grandkids? And if you can, get some (or all) of this on tape or write it down, even in bullet-points. 

Granted, you will still be concerned about your parents.  But these strategies will likely bring you a more satisfying relationship with your parents these days.  You may find that if you make these strategies your project, stress and conflict with your parents may go down quite a bit.  Instead of a power struggle, your relationship may have a renewed sense of purpose.  As hard as this may be, ask yourself, “where is the opportunity here?” 

Stay in touch with your supports in the meantime.  Take care of yourself, and see you next month!

 

Wouldn’t therapy be worth it?

 

 

 

If therapy could…

-help you feel less anxious, more calm

-add a supportive, non-judgmental person to your life

-help you get help with a trying life situation

-and, most importantly, give you tools for you to make some positive changes in your life

So that…

Instead of walking around feeling overwhelmed, alone, rudderless, you can feel calmer, supported, and focused on the here and now…

Wouldn’t it be worth it?

 


I’ve never heard anyone say they regretted doing therapy.

So you’ve been thinking about a particular issue, person, or big life change that may be on the horizon.  It’s weighing on you, occupying your mind, making you question yourself and your decisions.  You are thinking, you could use some help, maybe in the way of therapy, but you’re not sure therapy is the way to go.  Here are some reasons people say they are reluctant:

“I can’t afford therapy.”

Is that what you are thinking?  Most of us have spent money, time, and energy this Holiday season, or at many points throughout the year.  Understandably, you are trying to be watchful of your budget.

If the Holidays were fun and meaningful for you, I’m truly glad. Even if they were, maybe old issues, difficult relationships, or memories resurfaced with one or more people.  Maybe you used tips from my November blog post to get through the holidays, or other techniques to help you get through the tense times.

Maybe a big transition just happened or is on the horizon.  Job change, concerns about a friend, partner or relative?  You are worried about it, and it would really help to talk about it, but you aren’t sure these are concerns you want to lay out with someone in your personal life.

Maybe you did talk to friends, and it helped to get their support.  That’s something! But you may still be confused and this issue is hanging over you. You really don’t have huge amounts of time or energy. So for now, you are just hanging on, going with the flow and seeing what happens.  That can work  — for a while.

But sometimes it is MORE costly to put therapy on the back burner.  Namely, in quality of life and in the frustrating things that never seem to change, so that you lose sleep, or feel irritable, less energetic to deal with what needs dealing with.  This is especially true of trauma and severe stress. We actually spend more energy trying to “push down” our strong feelings. Or, they come out in a way that is not helpful, like temper outbursts, body/headaches, chronic distraction.

If therapy could help you feel less anxious, add a supportive, non-judgmental person to your life, get some ideas for help, and, most importantly, give you tools for you to make some positive changes in your life, so that instead of walking around feeling overwhelmed, alone, having no idea how to proceed, you can feel more calm, mindful, supported, and focused on what you need these days…Wouldn’t it be worth it?

“I’m super busy.  Who has time?”

It’s true.  You, like so many people, have work, parents, kids, school, and any number of responsibilities. 

You may want to try a person close to your home or work (or other place that you frequent often).  I typically see clients once weekly, but may see someone more frequently than that for trauma sessions.  It’s best to find someone close to your comings and goings. I’m in the City of Fairfax, Virginia, not far from George Mason University.

Pick a date and time with your therapist and make it part of a weekly routine. This will actually make it easier to stick with it.  Look at this as part of your “healthcare” routine and as something necessary you are doing for yourself.  And by the way, you send a very good strong message to your loved ones when they see that you are making this time for something important to you and that you stay with it.

For those of you who travel a lot or have health issues that make traveling difficult, teletherapy might be the way to go.  I don’t offer that at this time, but it is out there.  I’d rather you get the help you need and be honest with you about where to get it.

If your schedule needs to change, by the way, discuss this with your therapist. Most of us know that can happen. We try to work with you on this.

“I’ve done therapy.   I already know what my problems are. There are some things I just can’t change, and they are in the past, so I really don’t want to talk about them.”

I am not offering a “magic wand” that will make all your problems go away.  (And if anyone is doing that, they are not being straightforward with you, especially if there is a complex or ongoing life situation like a chronic illness in a loved one, chronic workplace upheaval, and such.  These things happen and I get that they don’t magically disappear.)   But I DO offer methods that will help you deal with these problems in a way that is calm and proactive, instead of dealing with them being terrified and reactive.  And those things that happened and are in the past?  The trauma therapy I do works on changing the memory, so that it does not affect you the same way.  It works.

Imagine having a game plan or a shift in your attitude in dealing with a person in your life who has often caused you stress or worry. Imagine how that would change things.  Instead of feeling like a powerless, out-of-control person, you will begin to feel more centered, deserving of good treatment and respect. (Respect is not fear, by the way.  Many people are in therapy because important people in their lives have confused these concepts.)  And when we believe we are worthy, things often begin to change.

So as you start out into the New Year, bearing the colder temperatures and looking ahead, think about the issues you would like help with.  If you read through this article all the way to this point, odds are, you are seriously considering therapy.  You know what it’s like not to do it. Maybe it’s time to try something different.

When you feel ready, call.

“I love my Mom, but sometimes I feel like I’m the grown-up. – Being the Adult Child

I often hear things like this:

“I love my mom, but it’s hard for us both as the years go on. It’s hard, being the adult child of your parent.

“I want to help her, but it’s overwhelming. She tells me ‘I’m just fine, don’t worry’, but then she asks me to help with a million things, from trying to log into her bank account to helping her out of her chair to finding her that spice that nobody even sells anymore.  
She tried to call five times yesterday.  I was busy at work, so I when I finally could, I called back, alarmed that there was an emergency. It turns out, she just wanted to know if I was at work or not, because she needed help remembering where she put her canned veggies. it’s just hard. I have two teenagers, one with his own health issues, one who is active and needs me to be there for her.  
I feel like these issues are a floating satellite, and I have no idea when and how they are going to crash.  With a sudden illness, or a crisis with her house, or something else.   Then I feel guilty, because she did so much for me my whole life.  Even when I was mad at her, she was the adult.
“I never imagined that I’d be so responsible for so much. I’m not even sure where to start with how to talk to her, or how or when to set some limits. Sometimes she gets mad and goes on these tirades about how no one gets what is like to be getting older and ill. I feel like I have to be careful what I say, because I just don’t want to get into it. She’ll just get more upset and berate me more. And she was often critical of me while I was growing up, but she can’t hear it back, now. It’s like she’s a child herself, and I’m the mom. I hate that. Part of me wishes I could help her, but part of me wants to RUN AWAY.”
You are not alone if you are feeling this way.  It’s not uncommon with caregiver stress.  Often the stress of coping with parents’ needs can go hand-in-hand with parenting children, be they very young, teenagers, or young adults.  Now that you are a “full adult”, yes, life with your parents has its tender moments, but it can also be frustrating. You feel like you need to walk on eggshells, even as you want to explode.  Some days are harder than others.  But when mom (or Dad) starts to get wrapped up in her own anger, sadness, and frustration, you wish you had something you could do or say.

But there are steps you can take to help you grow compassion even as you both face challenges.  They actually start with one simple step.

Sign up for my blog newsletter, and I’ll tell you a secret that can help you communicate with your mom…