Thursday, September 21, 2017
I like to think of myself as Friday's child, even as I confess I don't quite live up to the standard of being truly giving. For example, I haven't changed jobs or given up my job to be a more direct caregiver for my parents. I'm the child who flies across the country on long-weekends to my parent's home town, and tries to demonstrate my loving and giving nature by fixing all of their problems. I have the "well-meaning Friday child" syndrome. And there are a lot of us out there; I'm often seated next to someone attempting this same care mission on red-eye airplane flights.
Mostly, this pattern tends to drive my folks and my sister, who lives about 30 minutes from my parents' home, a bit crazy. I rationalize my behavior by telling myself, "They asked me to fix XYZ problem!" But doing so on the run is often a less-than-successful strategy. When my father was alive and still at home, he used to respond to my arrival with an immediate question, "when are you leaving?" I used to try to explain away that response by thinking, "he just wants to know so that he can get in an extra ride to the airport, one of his favorite outings." But now my mom is asking me the same question and she doesn't enjoy airport rides.
Over time, one of the things I've learned is that rather than trying to impose solutions, it's better to use these short trips to identify options. For example, as it became clear (at least to me) that my father might not be able to stay at home for the rest of his life, even with round-the-clock assistance, I suggested to my mother that we make a long list of different types of care settings and visit one each time I was home. Sometimes we even saw two spots. Sometimes we made a second visit to a spot we'd looked at earlier. Eventually my mother, worn out and worn down by the care needs of her husband, called me and suggested it "was time" to select a spot, and she already knew which spot was the right one. That process took more than eight months of visits. It meant my sister, my mom and I needed to be on the same team for this big change.
The spot Mom chose -- one of the first on our visit list -- wasn't the fanciest, but it proved to be perfect for Dad. The first few weeks were rough on everyone, but Dad did settle in and sometimes, out of the blue, he would say, "This is a wonderful place, isn't it?" For him it was actually a better place because he had five safe acres of freedom to roam, rather than being trapped in a multi-storied house that made movement much more dangerous and him more anxious. He calmed down, my mom calmed down, my sister got some breathing space, and I relaxed a bit on those still-frequent weekend visits.
Elder Law attorneys know all about the well-meaning child, and they tend to keep the decks clear on Fridays for the meetings with "out-of-town" children, often with one or both parents in tow. The experienced attorney knows how to find the balance between "rush" and "enough time," in order to help families make the best decisions for the future.