On caregivers, faith, family, and writing…

The feet of a tightrope walker.

The feet of a tightrope walker. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Raising a teenager is hard. I can almost hear all of you saying Well, duh! I know a lot is said about the snotty attitudes, the raging hormones, the nobody-knows-the-trouble-I’ve-seen angst – but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the stage in which an older teen is on the verge of becoming an adult, the times when the child/man (or woman) clings to his parents with one hand while pushing away with the other. And the fun part is that the parent gets to guess which is which. Caring for an aging loved one often involves walking that same emotional tightrope, especially if the caregiver is an in-law.

I walked that tightrope with Mom and Dad for several years, being careful not to cross the invisible line between helping and interfering. But when spoiled food, unpaid bills, and mishandled medications began to pile up, I jumped off the rope and started interfering. It worked out okay, though. Mom and Dad were both rather timid, and they respected authority whether it came from a pastor, a doctor, or a pushy daughter. Although they offered token resistance from time to time, more often they were relieved to have someone they trusted deal with things they no longer understood. This is not the case with my mother-in-law.

Until recently, David’s mom was a feisty, independent, healthy octogenarian who took care of herself just fine – thank you very much. She’s still feisty and independent, but her health is giving her problems now. She’s often too tired to do the things she wants to do, and the need for frequent treatments and medical devices have seriously limited her mobility – and she doesn’t like it. Her daughters live close to her and help as much as possible, but their attempts often end up in a three-way tug-of-war. David is sometimes called on to referee from afar, and then it becomes a 4-way battle. On occasion, I’m asked for an opinion based on my experience, and sometimes I’ve been known to offer an unsolicited opinion or two, but generally I try to stay out of the line of fire.

That’s been a little hard to do during our holiday visit. There is a saying that fish and houseguests begin to stink after three days. We arrived last Monday, and by the time we leave at the end of this week, we should be absolutely rank – and I will be exhausted from walking the caregiver/daughter-in-law tightrope.

I don’t want to give the wrong impression. My mother-in-law and I love each other, but that’s partly because in the 14 years I’ve known her, I’ve learned what lines are not to be crossed. But now those lines are becoming blurred, and I’m stepping carefully. For example, her kitchen has always been sacrosanct. She doesn’t particularly like to cook, but if there’s cooking to be done in her kitchen, she wants to be the one to do it. On this visit, however, she has turned the K.P. duties over to me, within limits. I can fix a meal and set a place for her, but she will decide what she will eat and when. I can clean up the kitchen, but if she’s feeling well and decides to “finish up,” I am to step away quietly.

I’ve also learned about laundry. She loves clean clothes and doesn’t mind help unless it’s with the towels. She has her own unique way of folding her linens so they fit perfectly into her cabinets, and it is best if I stay out of that operation. I’ve also learned that it is not in my best interest to offer my opinion about how well or how poorly she follows her doctors’ advice.

If you’re a caregiver, you’re smiling, nodding your head, and thinking I know exactly what you’re talking about.  If you’re not yet a caregiver, take note. Unless you leave this earth prematurely, there will come a time when a loved one will need you. Then you, too, will walk that perilous tightrope between helping and interfering.



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