My daughter is expecting her second child. They will both be boys and she sits around dreaming of them playing together with their toys. My other daughter has a boy and a girl. She loves it when she sees them being tender with each other. If you are a mom, I am sure that you too have enjoyed these moments. When our children fight, it bothers us…more than it bothers us to see the neighborhood kids fight. We want our kids to get along. That is a feeling that never goes away.
My parents had one child…then waited ten years before having the second….and then four years later I came along. It would have been easy to raise us all as only children, but mom and dad didn’t. We were a family and we would learn how to work together. When we played badminton or ping pong, it wasn’t about who won. It was always about working together to see how many times we could get it over the net.
It didn’t occur to me until we were in the middle of mom and dad’s care, how important those lessons had been.
I lived in the same town as mom and dad….My sister lived about three and a half hours away. My brother was many states away. This put most of the caretaking burden on me…at least that is how most would see it. I try to recall it as a blessing. I lived in the same town as mom and dad because I wanted to. We could have moved elsewhere, but we decided that we wanted to live near family. With that decision came consequences. Did I spend most of my mother’s days celebrating someone else rather than being celebrated? Yep. but did I have a babysitter near by when I wanted one? yep.
Life is full of choices. My brother and sister decided early in the caretaking of parents that my vote weighed more than theirs, because it was most likely going to affect me the most. I am thankful for that because for the most part they were right. The nursing home that our parents went to needed to be one that was handy for me.
For the most part we would decide things all together. We all had one thing in common….we wanted the best for mom and dad…period. Now trying to come up with that “best” took a lot of talking.
During the very trying years, my siblings and I talked on the phone about three times a week. I would call them and tell them what I had observed on my visits. Sometimes those would be good things like telling them that mom and dad were able to sing “their” song today. Some times they were funny like the time my mom told someone I was in Junior High. The point was, it was important that we were on this journey together. No one was caught off guard when we were told we had to move dad because of his behavior. Everyone saw it coming when we were told it was time to call Hospice.
Communication. I knew that there was no better way to honor my mother than to get along with my brother and sister. I am so thankful for that time we had as siblings .
There were a few things that helped along the way.
1. We all agreed up front that mom and dad’s money was their money…not our inheritance. Dad had put that money away to take care of mom and that is what it was going to do. There were times that we were burning through the money pretty fast, but we knew that if they outlived their money the state would take care of them, so we might as well make it as comfortable as possible for them while we could. Sometimes that would mean hiring a night nurse to stay with them. It would mean hiring someone to be a companion to ease the burden off of me. We tried to be good stewards of the money, but like I said…never forgetting that it was theirs.
2. We tried to show mom and dad a united front. When we came to them about anything, it was always together. Just their kids…no spouses. Mom and dad loved their son and daughter in laws, but with dementia it is best to keep things simple.
3.We played good cop, bad cop. I was good cop…my brother was bad cop. I really felt bad for him..it is not a role anyone wanted, but someone had to and it couldn’t be me. I remember many times being upset with some care my parents were getting. I would call my brother and he would call the office and complain. I had to work with the workers on a regular basis…I needed them to like me and take good care of our parents because we were such a wonderful family, but sometimes things had to said….like the time I found dad sleeping on a stripped bed…it made me cry.
4. For a long time my sister came one week a month and my brother came one week a month. Thankfully my sister retired during this time so she was able to do this. My brother’s job allowed him to work anywhere, so he also could come. The problem was that he needed to fly. That is when we discovered Southwest Visa. We were able to pay all of mom and dad’s expensenses with that card, giving my brother free flier miles. God is so good!
5. Just as each of our children fill a different piece of our heart, it is important to remember that the same is true for our parents. They need time with all of their kids. My parents memories were all before my time. My sister could recall those times with them. My brother was the boy. He would just walk in the room and my mom would glow and say…That’s my Boy! As the baby, my job was to make my parents laugh….and we had some great times laughing.
6. Remember that every family is made up of very different people with different strengths and weaknesses. Use those strengths, designating jobs out to the ones that can best do them. Build each other up …this is a hard time for everyone. Try to understand each others weaknesses and work around them.
Remember….Honor your mother and father…what better way to honor them than to get along .