Most of us know how to provide a warm and loving environment for our children. One of the major sources on which we draw is our own childhood experience. That which we remember with fondness we try to recreate and that which we remember with something less than total fondness we try to avoid.
However, when we find ourselves in the position of being responsible for providing a warm and loving environment for elderly parents who now need our help, we have no experience with what it is like to be old.
If you have spent some time searching for help on learning more about the stages of life you may have run across Erik Erikson’s stages of development. He tells us seniors reach a point where memories become all important to them as they attempt to evaluate their own lives.
Here is an idea for how to make use of our own memories of our childhood to help provide better eldercare. It’s called the “Three Things Exercise” and it is drawn from the new field of Positive Psychology.
You probably know Positive Psychology focuses on what’s right in life rather than what is wrong. The three things exercise is a Positive Psychology technique to help in learning to practice gratitude. Here is how I think it can be a positive tool for caregivers.
Before you retire for the night write down three things you remember that your parents have done for you. Be as specific as possible. For most of us, there will be hundreds of examples from which to choose. Do you remember when your dad first took you to a sporting event or came to watch you in a dance performance at school? Do you remember when your mother first taught you to bake cookies? Start a journal with these memories and I am convinced at least two good things will happen to you.
First, you may feel better about your own upbringing and experience a deep sense of gratitude towards your seniors for all they have done for you. It can make it easier to provide care, not matter how difficult.
Second, it gives you a way to share in you seniors’ natural and healthy desire to relive the past. Share the journal with them and open up a whole new world of conversation.
Thinking back to the care giving I tried to provide my now deceased mother I wish I had not been so obsessed with all that was wrong with the way she was living and focused more on what was right. I never got the chance to try out the three things exercise with her and I deeply wish I had. However, I am not done with care giving as I have friends who are just beginning to experience what I went through and they are asking for advice. I welcome the opportunity to share what I learned from what I did right as well as from what I did wrong.
Right now I have one of my cousins starting out with the three things exercise to help her with my elderly Uncle and Aunt with whom she lives. She is finding it easy to write but has as yet been unable to share her memories. I am hoping to convince her to present her journal as Christmas presents. Wish me luck.