Recently, we were the speakers at a ‘caregivers’ night in a local desert community. After the conclusion of the official program, we opened the floor for those that had specific issues to address. The common question we heard was, “Why can’t I get my dad to get dressed on time in the morning? He knows that I have to take the kids to day care and then drive to my work. I swear he does it just to make me late!”
This is the lament of the Sandwich Generation. These families have children to rear and aging parents in the same household. Consequently, they feel the pressures of being ‘sandwiched’ between two very different sets of care responsibilities. A national survey conducted in 2005 among 3,014 adults, including 1,117 Baby Boomers, examined the intergenerational care relationships within families. The results found that half of all Boomers were raising one or more young children; and, providing primary care support to one or more aging parent, sometimes even a grandparent.
Just like children, the more some Elders are told they must do something, the more they will keep fighting not to do it. It can become a test of wills for power and control. Consequently, their behavior is seen as annoying or recalcitrant. We encourage the caregiver to recall that their Elder may be grieving the loss of their driver’s license, the loss of their independence, a loss of spouse, even the loss of mobility. All of these trigger the grief process.
Also remember that typically adult children have specific images of what is appropriate for their Elders to do and undertake at ‘their age’. Along with their children’s ideas, there are clear-cut descriptions from the media; and sometimes, from individual cultures on the activities they should pursue now. These images are often restrictive for the Elder loved one. It’s not surprising that they feel resentment in that they should be liberated from the constraints of social image, age or gender distinctions, and professional status. Often, with some freedoms it enables them to tap into their own creative powers for the most meaningful years of their lives.
What would happen if you change your message to them concerning living arrangements, household schedules, new activities, connections with old friends, perhaps previous hobbies that they used to enjoy? What if your message omitted blame statements such as, ‘Why don’t you, You always make me late/angry/exasperated, If only you would…?” What if your message included positive results, not just obediance? Try asking questions on how they want their schedule to fold in with yours. Avoid responding with a definitive “No” to their every request. Create space for you and your loved one to consider current issues. Listen for their viewpoint. Examine not only their physical capabilities, but also their unfulfilled desires, the projects where they would find renewal.
However, these recommendations are not intended to reverse a revocation of their driver’s license! We hear the demand for driving often. Driving loss is of great impact to an Elder’s independence. Re-direction to other activities can enable them to view that independence is not just associated with the driving ability. Other activities that involve their decision-making restore the sense of ‘I have control over my life’. And, this perspective does not include true dementia and Alzheimer’s Elders that cannot concentrate on their self-care and decision-making processes.
These questions may help you in changing your message in care giving:

• How would your conversation begin with your loved one about how you would like to revise the current living schedule for the both of you? Where and what challenges can the both of you make congruent decisions?
• Can you have this opening conversation without accusatory statements such as, “You always, You never, or If you would just….”?
• How can you separate the amount of control you need in your living arrangements with the trade offs of freedom your loved one may desire now?
• What other activity or contribution can they make to daily life, in the home or to the outside community, possibly civic engagement, mentoring college students, serving as a docent in a historic hotel, or reading to the blind, etc.?
• If resentment is in place, what decisions are being made for their welfare; and, they have no voice in the decision? Are they blaming you or others for their current situation without practicing their power of choice?
• How can you honor their core values, bridging the difference on judgments of money expenditures, number of visitors in the home and time of visiting, even choice of dress for church or public events?
• Are you being the ‘sheriff’ on their prospects for future activity involvement, such as taking up golf now or tai chi?

“Trust that little voice in your head that says "Wouldn't it be interesting if…..; and then do it”.
Duane Michals

Author's Bio: 

Bradley Morgan is a corporate and ontological coach who served as a hi-tech executive for over 17 years, in companies such as, IBM, Bay Networks, Premysis, and Brocade Communications. Bradley’s credentials include a BS from Georgia Tech, a MS from UCLA, a certificate in gerontology from the University of Boston (CGP); and a Professional Coaching Certification (PCC) through the Newfield Network program. In the telecommunications industry, she developed both domestic and international systems engineering teams for technical expertise and executive level leadership. Bradley is a member of the International Coaching Federation (ICF), American Management Associates (AMA), the American Society on Aging (ASA); and the American Parkinson’s Disease Association (APDA).

And, Bradley is also the Founder and President of a non profit company that specifically coaches American Indian students. The Looks Within Foundation is committed to the best in transitional coaching for these students from their reservation life; and, selects candidates from all tribal nations for scholarship funds in higher education. Bradley is a featured speaker at many of the student councils within the tribal nations.
contact her at bam@walksbesidecoaching.com