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Independence, Control and Self-determination
It shouldn't be a surprise that you and your
parent don't always agree on what's best for him or her. No two people
agree on everything all the time.
When conflict arises, what can you do? As you
make your decisions, it's helpful if you keep in mind these
● Encourage and allow independence.
A part of growing to adulthood is accepting,
and sometimes demanding, independence. Because of chronic illness or
mental deterioration, growing old can mean the chipping away of that
personal freedom. A goal for you as a caregiver is to delay or to
minimize that erosion. Your role is to offer assistance that helps Mom
remain as independent as possible.
That means you don't take over tasks or make
decisions Mom can still handle. For example, don't dress her in the
morning just because it would take you only five minutes but it takes
her twenty. Don't decide she needs a lifestyle that is as active as
her health will allow when what she really wants is a quieter schedule
because she's lived a long and hectic life and now she wants to rest.
● Whenever possible, let your parent be
It's human nature that we want to be in the
driver's seat when it comes to our own lives. Giving up control, or
having it snatched from us, can make us angry and frightened.
What you may see as a mere detail can be
monumental to Dad. Maybe he has always gone to the 8:30 Mass on Sunday
morning but now you're concerned about his getting there on his own.
So you unilaterally decide the two of you will go to the 5:00 Mass on
Saturday evening and you can't understand why he's so upset.
After all, you're the one making the
sacrifice, aren't you? You're the one doing him a favor.
But from your father's point of view, you're
trying to ruin his Sunday morning routine. Now he won't be able to say
hello to his fellow "8:30 regulars," the friends and peers
he enjoys visiting with each week.
Letting him keep some control might mean
mutually agreeing that one or two Sundays each month you take him to
the 8:30 on Sunday. Let him pick which Sundays. Likely, after a while,
he'll feel equally comfortable with "the strangers" at the
Saturday Mass, too.
● Remember each of us has a God-given
right to self-determination.
We were created to make choices. We were
given free will.
This means that day-to-day living, your
parent has the right to determine what his or her life will look like.
To do this or to do that.
That's fine in theory, but complicating the
issue in the real world of the aging parent and adult-child caregiver
is the fact that, sadly, at some point your parent's ability to make
safe decisions may begin to fail. Mom or Dad may begin to choose what
is dangerous or unhealthy or may lapse into self-neglect.
That's not a valid excuse for you to decide
on your own that Mom is "incompetent" and to take over all
decision making for her. Itís better for you, and her, to ask for a
professional geriatric assessment, to help objectively evaluate the
situation. Your dioceseís Catholic Charities or Catholic Community
Services office may offer services to help you assess your parents
needs and make plans for the future. It's possible to design a plan
including any necessary precautions without losing sight of the
importance of her independence, her need to be in control as much as
possible and her right to determine how she wants to live the
remainder of her life.