Dear Dr. Yael,
This past Pesach at the sedarim, my mother began drinking sweet wine. As she is a diabetic and this could be harmful to her, I asked her to stop. It was not easy to get her to listen, but I was firm. While I know it was the right thing to do, my children were present and did not understand. As a matter of fact, one of them asked me, “If we have to respect Bubby, then why are you talking to her like that?”
Dr. Respler, how do I explain my behavior to my children?
Many people are put in the challenging situation of caring for older parents. It can be incredibly painful when your parents’ minds are not clear, and they do not trust you or they do things that are inappropriate.
I am sorry that you are in such a difficult predicament. On the one hand, you have to protect your mother from hurting herself physically; on the other hand, you still have to speak to your mother with derech eretz. It sounds like you are in a lot of pain. It’s hard to be firm with your mother, and at the same time not have your children hear you speaking to her in a way that makes them uncomfortable.
Sit down with your children and explain that you love and respect Bubby. However, Bubby does not always realize when she does something that could be harmful. For example, she really can’t drink the wine, but sometimes wants to anyway. Although it may seem like you are being strict with Bubby, you are just trying to protect her.
Explain to your children that kibud eim in this situation is to take care of Bubby medically so that she does not drink something that could be harmful to her.
A prominent rav was consulted about situations where children have to protect their aging parents from hurting themselves. He explained that as a basic rule, parents who are negligent with their health need not be heeded.
I want to share a story with you.
Every Friday, Dina’s mother-in-law would cook farfel and burn it. Then she would take a nap. Dina would throw out the burnt farfel, clean the pot and remake it. When the family sat down to eat Friday night she would say, “Isn’t the farfel that Bubby made amazing.” What an example of kibud eim.
What happens when you must take a driving license away from an aging parent? Yes, it is a necessity, but it brings with it so much guilt.
A great way to keep the relationship strong is to focus on the past. As people age, their long-term memory is better than their short-term memory, thus, talking about the past gives them some comfort and helps them feel more secure.
Here are some other suggestions:
Accept that your role in your parents’ life has changed and be prepared to start over from scratch.
Don’t have any expectations, especially emotional ones. Sometimes, aging parents are very emotionally different. Whereas they were once positive and expressive, today they can be more irritable. Not having expectation will make it easier for you to deal with the negativity.
Expect a lot of anger and irritability. When parents get older, they lose a lot of their autonomy. This loss causes a lot of anger, so be prepared for them to lash out at you.
Try to give your parents as much autonomy as possible. Help them feel like they are a part of as many decisions as possible. A very important way to show your parents respect is to ask their advice. They have so much knowledge and it will make them feel loved and valued.
Be good to all the people who are helping you with your parents. You want them to want to be good to your parents and a kind word and little gifts will go a long way in showing your appreciation.
Lastly, make sure to take care of yourself! It’s imperative that you do not forget about your own needs in this arduous process. While your parents are going to probably take over a lot of your time, make sure you take out time for self-care so you don’t burn out quickly!
Hatzlocha with this difficult tekufah and may Hashem give you a lot of strength to deal with all of the challenges that may come your way. We wish you much bracha and nachas!