by Elizabeth SheanMom was struggling not to cry, choking out the words past a constricted voice box. “You don’t even want me
thinking for myself. You just want to be a dictator around here.”I hugged Mom and silently castigated myself. How is it that I—a professional communicator—fail so often in communicating with my own mother? Then again, whose communication skills don’t suffer when they’re tired? Exhausted, even?Mom was crying because I had lost my patience and yelled at her for making a mess. She has been doing this a lot in the few weeks since I told her we would be moving back to Albuquerque in the spring. In an effort to “help get ready to move,” she “sorts” her belongings: papers in the filing cabinet, books from the shelves, DVDs in the entertainment center. Of course, she’s not able to truly “sort” anything anymore. So these items get hopelessly scattered about, and guess who gets to clean it all up?On this day, the object of Mom’s sorting mania was books. I returned with our dog, Mitzi, from a veterinary appointment to find piles of books stacked randomly on the floor. I angrily told Mom she needed to stop going off on her own and taking on these “projects” without telling me. I lectured her. I hurt her feelings during my tirade, no doubt about it. I was too harsh. Not nearly patient or loving enough.As I heard the angry words tumbling from my mouth, I thought,
I need a break. I need to get some respite from caregiving because my behavior is really unacceptable right now.For the rest of the day I made amends with Mom. Apologized profusely. Gave many, many hugs. Cleaned up the mess in good humor. By bedtime I could tell she had forgiven me. Eventually I’ll forgive myself.The next day our CAREGiverSM, Anita, arrived with her usual cheerful smile. After she bathed Mom and completed a few other routine tasks, I asked her to help Mom sort her books into two piles: those to be moved, and those to be sold.Mom has a lot of books, so the sorting took most of an hour. I checked in occasionally and marveled at the way Anita interacted with Mom. When Mom got distracted, Anita would gently bring her back on-task. When Mom asked the same questions over and over, Anita would patiently explain again and again. And all the while, Anita gave enthusiastic encouragement, “You’re doing so great! I can’t believe how much progress you’ve made on this!”When the task was complete, Mom was beaming. And a hard truth hit me: Just as I need periodic breaks from Mom, so does she need periodic breaks from me.
I observed Mom and Anita enjoying a coffee break, chatting like old friends, and made a decision. I called my local Home Instead Senior Care® office right then and there. I asked them to send Anita to us for a second day each week—so Mom can see her friend twice as often. I think a little extra respite might be just what the doctor ordered to improve our communication.