THIS IS WEEK 2 of: How can I get mom to accept help?
I’m not going to replay all of last week’s column because then we’d never get anywhere, so I’ll just trust that you had it firmly taped to the inside of the microwave (kidding) and we’re ready to go.
Let’s say that you’re right.
Let’s say that Mom does need “help.”
Let’s begin with what kind of help and how much?
Help could be anything from getting the laundry done in the basement and back upstairs to post-surgical wound dressing, so let’s get clear.
Assuming that you aren’t available to do it, then the first could mean a maid service, a homecare agency or a private individual; the second is about a registered nurse from home health, so let’s define what help looks like.
Let’s assume it’s the former, so it’s about housework, maybe some help with shopping and cooking? Help remembering or managing medications?
No, let’s just stay with housework for now.
Just because Mom might need (as opposed to want) help with something doesn’t mean she needs help with everything. And she probably wouldn’t accept it, anyway.
Let me tell you a story, called “Guerilla Social Work.”
A daughter in Atlanta, two kids, both parents working, is on the phone with Mom on Wednesday evening. Mom happens to mention that she almost busted her butt hauling the laundry up from the basement the other day. Daughter loves Mom and flies into town Friday night.
By the time she flies out Sunday afternoon, Mom is scheduled to receive two dozen frozen meals, has one of those panic button thingies hanging around her neck and the housecleaner will be showing up at 8 a.m. Monday.
By Wednesday evening, the frozen meals are in the garbage because they wouldn’t all fit in the freezer anyway, the panic button thingy slipped into the garbage disposal while disposing and the housecleaner is history because she didn’t know how to vacuum anyway.
Well, nobody asked Mom what she wanted. The daughter just assumed she knew what Mom needed.
Now, maybe, if the daughter had asked something like, “Hey, Mom, do you want a hand with that laundry?” Mom might have said, “Yes.”
And, assuming that all went well (good person, job competently done, etc.), Mom might have gradually become open to help with something else (vacuuming is a popular No. 2), because Mom wasn’t being made to feel less than.
You get the picture.
I’m presenting a rosy picture, but I think you get the idea: One step at a time, then pause … maybe another step, then pause.
Other issues can come into play in these scenarios such as: Was there a medical event? Did Mom have a stroke or something?
That changes the game for everybody, including Mom.
Is there an issue of affordability for this help? Who’s paying?
If it’s you, can that be handled in a way that doesn’t make Mom less than, like a 6-month birthday present or something?
And if help entails a stranger coming into Mom’s home, remember that there two huge issues that need to be acknowledged and handled:
• Who is this person? Do you know them? Have there been background checks? Is Mom willing and able to effectively supervise? There are predators out there, so what about the potential for financial exploitation, etc. ad nauseum?
• There needs to be a reasonable personality match between Mom and help, if this is going to work for any length of time. They don’t have to be best friends forever, but they do have to be able to get along and communicate, and remember this: Help has a right to dignity, too, and Mom needs to acknowledge and honor that.
Yes, it is complicated and it’s a process, so don’t expect a quick fix.
Please don’t leap to the assumption that, because Mom fumbled the wet blankets on the basement stairs that she (a) needs to come live with you, or (b) should be immediately relocated to the assisted living facility across town, for all the same reasons we’ve discussed plus several dozen others.
Complicated as this all is, I’ve seen it work thousands of times.
If you get lost in the complexity, remember two words: dignity and respect.
Yes, they are both a part of love, but they can get lost in love.
And if you get really lost in it all, just close your eyes and picture yourself.
Things get pretty clear, pretty quick.
Mark Harvey is director of Clallam/Jefferson Senior Information & Assistance, which operates through the Olympic Area Agency on Aging. He is also a member of the Community Advocates for Rural Elders partnership. He can be reached at 360-452-3221 (Port Angeles-Sequim), 360-385-2552 (Jefferson County) or 360-374-9496 (West End), or by emailing [email protected].