Father (in this case Mother) No Longer Knows Best
Just recently, I conceded to myself; I am a senior. I have avoided the admission for more years than I would like to admit, but after all, I still shop in the Junior Department, I feel as young as I ever did (no stiff joints or aches and pains), and it is unlikely that my behavior duplicates that of my peers (I still listen to Metallica for god’s sakes).
I accept that I have changed since my husband died. My heart is heavier, my step a little slower, and my sense of humor less frivolous. Without my PC (Prince Charming Post June 2013), my life lacks the invisible energy that exists between two people amiably in love; it is flat. I miss the intangible magic spark he created that made me smile for no reason, and I long for the charm and warmth of my PC’s words even when we were merely discussing the weather. Yes, I am exceedingly grateful for the precious memories, but as any widow will agree, it isn’t enough.
In the meantime, I have a wonderful, loving son of whom I am exceedingly proud. But, since I returned to Florida after closing my home in Canada, he has appointed himself as the deputy in charge of motivating Mom to do what it takes to “get happy.” He has welcomed the unconventional “role reversal” without hesitation, and he is not the least bit reticent as he assumes the duties of the pseudo parent. He invents innovative ideas about how and what I should do to quickly return to my “old self “so to speak, and he doesn’t hesitate to share them with me in a lengthy text or email. It hasn’t yet occurred to him that my “old self” doesn’t quite exist as he remembers it. He lectures me about my attitude, my financial future, and he warns me about the consequences of my social failures. He refuses to entertain the idea of my getting a new Scion FR-S sports car as a distraction - it goes too fast. Yet he insists that I go out more, and all I’m suggesting is that maybe a little speed is what I need. Finally, he scolds me in a series of prolific text messages when he senses I am ignoring his advice. Admittedly, he is probably right in most instances, and I appreciate that he is acting out of love and with only the best of intentions, but I am struggling to find my new path, and right or wrong, I am feel I am old enough (and still young enough) to make my own choices.
Lately, this subtle skirmish between us has triggered familiar memories of my assisted living days. So often there is a huge disparity between what an adult child thinks a parent should do and what a parent actually wants to do. Frequently, the pressure from the adult child takes precedence over the desires of the parent. “Mom, you’ll never be happy in the studio apartment you chose. Look, I know you’d be much more content in the lovely two bedroom the nice lady showed us. I told her we’d take the two bedroom.” Or, “Mom, I think you should start playing bridge again. You know you and dad always played, and I don’t understand why you won’t at least give it a try. So, I begged the activity director to take you to play in the community foursome. It will be good for you.” And this one, “I brought you several really good books, Mom. I just can’t believe you don’t read anymore. You used to always have a book in your hands, and now, you won’t even turn a page. By the way, I just signed you up for library book club. You’ll enjoy it.” Ahhhh yes, these are just a few simple examples of how Mother no longer does or knows best.
During these conflicts adult children don’t recognize that they unconsciously impose hypothetical objectives on us rather than realistic ones. As we age, we may be intimidated by the space of a larger apartment, it can be difficult to muster the intense focus it takes to follow a bridge hand, and one may find reading can be a meaningless chore as eyesight fades and distractions thwart concentration. As the years pass, our requirements change as well as our expectations, and often what we need and want doesn’t always conform to what others want for us. And often trying to make everyone happy, we regress and do as we're told.
Unfortunately, there is a vast difference between the initial parenting role and the new one adopted by the adult child. When raising a son or daughter, there was a memory of our own behavior when we were young, no matter how distorted or faint it may have been, there was usually some vague frame of reference. “Wow, I think I remember doing something almost as stupid when I was in school,” or “Yep, I recall my dad grounding me when I got my first speeding ticket.” When we were advising a child, there was an ambivalent benchmark that guided our decisions and influenced our feelings. Not so when the son is under forty thinking for the mom who is 68. He can’t say, “Mom, when I was 68 all I wanted to do was play shuffleboard, or “Ya, when I was your age I couldn’t wait to join the bingo game at the club house.” No matter how he tries, he can only imagine how I should behave at my age – there is no recollection.
So how do we bridge this gap that exists between us at the moment? Mostly, I listen, I smile, and I agree to everything he says, and then I tell him exactly what he wants to hear. Then, once all is said and done, I proceed to do exactly as I please - after all, it worked for him when I was the parent, didn’t it?