Why Is Mom So Ungrateful?

November 9, 2013

A recent piece in the New York Times gave tremendous insight into aging.

Screen Shot 2013-11-09 at 7.46.35 AMSo often, we hear the feelings and distress of the caregivers.  These may be daughters, sons or in-law children.   They do so much for the aged loved one.  Why can’t they just say “thank you”?  Of course, they are distressed by losing their parent, by seeing their decline.  In most cases, this service is borne of genuine love and appreciation, and a desire to care.  In other  cases, frankly speaking, mom’s old age has started to cramp their style.  They just got the kids out of the house and are ready to travel a bit more.  But, mom broke her hip and now I need to help her out.

The article by Sheila Solomon Klass, however, tells us what it’s like from the senior’s point of view.  A senior herself, she receives help from various family members.  But, she does not like it.  Being helped is the same as being a burden.  Regardless of how cheerfully her family assists, there is no way to get around the fact that they are helping out and she would much prefer to be independent and fend for herself.

This lies at the core of our Sharing while Caring™ philosophy of home care.  The normal desire of a caring person is to help, to do.  It’s what I did when I cared for my mom, who eventually succumbed to Alzheimer’s .

We’d go out to a restaurant and she seemed overwhelmed by the menu.  No problem.  I’d just order for her!  “She’ll have the Reuben,” I’d happily tell the waitress.  As long as I could remember, Mom always enjoyed getting a Reuben sandwich at that restaurant.

Sadly, in my effort to be a good son and caregiver, I overlooked how my mom probably felt.  In a world where, because of her aging body and incipient dementia, it was harder for her to do things for herself, I took away something she could still do – decide what she wanted to eat!  I could’ve simplified it a little.  I could have slowed down the waitress who rattled off the daily specials.  I could’ve narrowed the choices by saying something like, “You have always enjoyed the Reuben here, but that chicken sandwich sounds good, too.  Do you want either of those?”

As we care for our loved ones, we need to keep in mind that this is indeed the Greatest Generation.  These are people that know what it’s like to work.  They may have fought in World War II and – literally – made the world safe for democracy.  If they were not old enough to be in battle, they were old enough to witness and participate in the sacrifices from the home front.  This was the generation that through hard work and a can-do spirit propelled the United States through the post-war industrial revolution, assuring our position as a global superpower.  Aren’t they able to order lunch for themselves?

I made a mistake by caring too much.  Maybe I was thinking more about me.  When I was over for a visit, I was going to the best son possible and do as much as possible for her.  I worked long hours at my job, and had two young boys at home.  I wanted to be sure I did not feel guilty during the week.

I was not a bad son.  I loved my mom and she was grateful for many of the things I did.  But there were many things I could have done better.  And there were many things I did because I thought they were being helpful to her without giving her a chance to let me know how she felt about them.  It would bug me that she’d want things left on the counter instead of put away neatly in the cupboards.  But it was her home, and if she wanted those things out, as long as they were not a hazard, why was I putting them away?

It’s a balancing act of doing what we think is right, while respecting the feelings of the other side.  But then, so is any relationship borne out of love.


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