I was hugely uncomfortable, a week overdue with my first child. Almost everybody sensed that this was a delicate time in my life, one requiring sensitivity and support. Everyone except my grandparents, who were calling hourly with assorted problems, demanding to know when my mother could come back and tend to their needs properly again.
I practiced hypno-birthing techniques, attempting to lower my stress level while my mother held the phone a foot away from her ear. Grandma Geraldine's shrill voice pierced the air. "Why can't you come back now? You know, that lovely girl on the news had a Cesarean Section and didn't inconvenience anyone's schedule. You've been gone a week and we need you! How much longer is it going to be?"
My mother just sighed and tried to explain that she would be there as soon as her first grandbaby was safely "on the ground." As their primary caregiver, she was clear they weren't having any actual emergencies. Unless you count running out of Grandpa's favorite cookies or difficulties with setting the thermostat as life or death situations.
If you're a caregiver, you know it's tough enough to set boundaries and take care of yourself in the best of circumstances. With a demanding and manipulative parent, it's even harder. When my mother and I realized that Grandpa Rene and Grandma Geraldine were guaranteed to have some kind of perceived emergency every time we were gone for more than a day, we were able to plan accordingly. Here's what helped:
- See behind childish behaviors. A sense of abandonment, loneliness and loss of control are often the root causes of manipulative behavior. Recognizing what's going on behind the scenes empowers us to find effective solutions.
- Set clear limits. Once we are clear on our own ecological boundaries, we are responsible for communicating them. Maintaining consistent limits, despite initial resistance from loved ones, will ease everyone's lives.
- Seek creative solutions. Enlist other people's help in brainstorming and finding alternate ways of meeting your loved one's eldercare needs. This leads to increased freedom in your life, a greater sense of trust and security in the minds of your elderly loved ones, and increased positive communication.
Are you a caregiver for manipulative parents? Do you have some tips to share with our EldercareABC community? We'd love to read them as comments on this blog!