Long-Distance Caregiver Asks
What can I do as a long-distance caregiver when my mom won’t bathe and my dad won’t persuade her? Also, how do I deal with my anger in these situations?
[The full text of this long-distance caregiver’s question is posted at end. As one of an estimated 7-million Americans serving as long-distance caregivers according to the National Institute of Aging, he is one of The Caregiver’s Voice Coaching Clients and has given us permission to post his question. TCV Ed]
From what you write, you are a long-distance caregiver who feels flustered by your mom’s lack of bathing and your dad’s seeming apathy. [Scroll down and see full text of this Long Distance Caregiver’s question under the heading, “Original Question.”]
You feel helpless being a long-distance caregiver because you want the best for your parents. You don’t want your dad to lose his quality of life. If only he’d step up and make sure your mom bathes. You wish your mom and dad would agree to other options for her care. You’re trying to be the good son who cares and helps, but your parents are placing obstacles in your way.
To observe first-hand their day-to-day coping, you will need to spend more time with your parents. Your day-long visit gives them a pleasant change of pace and they’re able to hold it all together while you’re there. However, after a week or more, you would see an entirely different picture of how they live day-to-day.
A personal example will illustrate: Despite a busy travel schedule, I spent two weeks with my father after his case worker threatened to commit him for a psychiatric assessment. This would have killed my father. Even though my sister lived 5 blocks away and my brother lived in our father’s home, I traveled 2,000 miles to observe first hand. What I saw after the first few days was worse than I expected. Something had to be done and I was better able to evaluate my father’s care options. After 2 weeks on only 3 – 4 hours of sleep each night, I managed to persuade my father to visit my husband and me. Our plans took a shocking turn when I bought my father a one-way plane ticket after my husband and I discovered the best option was to have him live with us.
We’re all so busy these days trying to juggle life’s many demands. Yet, we need to balance our days with the fragile lives of our loved ones. Taking time off to be with your parents for a week or more will give you a clearer view of the delicate balance each tries to keep in their fragile lives together.
Yes, your mother should bathe and your dad knows she should. But he’s tried and when he pushes the issue, life goes to hell in their home. Rather than deal with it, he figures her being smelly and dirty may be less painful than dealing with her behavior. Put yourself in their shoes. There are times when [your wife] does things and you look the other way to keep balance and peace in the household. Your father’s been doing this for years. If you’re able to spend more time with them, you will definitely witness how they cope with their issues and may see similarities in how you cope, too.
Bathing is intensely personal and we each have our own way to clean ourselves. It is not unusual to fear having to disrobe and shower. It’s a pain! It’s uncomfortable. It feels strange. It’s embarrassing. She may not remember how to take a shower. She may not want to be seen by “strangers” while she’s naked. Finally, her senses of smell and sight are not as keen as they once were; so, she probably doesn’t notice!
Spend as much time with your parents as you need to before they’re gone. You don’t want to live with regrets.
Even though a shorter visit won’t give you a real sense of what’s going on, if you visit them regularly–once or twice a month–your father will feel more confident about counting on you. Given the distance, how you feel, and your work schedule, start with an overnight weekend visit. Next, try a few days. Finally, try to spend at least a week with them.
The final issue here is YOU. You are so exhausted and your reserves are really fumes. You’d like things to work right in your life, for once! This is just another example of how the world is not so neatly packaged and how life lacks logic.
Long-Distance Caregiver’s POST SCRIPT Response to TCV’s Answer
I sincerely appreciate your detailed reply to my email. I was pretty edgy when I wrote it [see below under “Original Question” heading for full text of question] and am still processing your frank observations and advice.
Feel free to use anything you like for TCV, though I’d prefer my name stay out of it for now (initials are okay). Some other emotions have come into play.
Guilt may top my list for the moment. I am feeling guilty about not spending more time with them. Shame too, perhaps — being ashamed of my anger over the events of the day. This is interesting from an objective/clinical perspective, but not very helpful from my emotional standpoint.
Not really sure at this stage since work has been busy and I have purposely not dwelled on it too much. You are correct that I am running on fumes of late. Mindset can be tough to manage in sales and customer service. I do not want to pollute my surroundings, so to speak.
Bottom line, thank you for the feedback.
We were at my parents at [a coastal California city] most of the day. Bittersweet and emotionally draining sums it up reasonably well.
My “Ask TCV” question is really about my parents. My dad is the primary caregiver for my mom, with no outside help from family besides us. My sister is not engaged with what is happening now.
I am tired and out of focus as I write this, but I see my dad’s caregiving role as dealing with medical issues (doctors, meds, insurance, etc.), and physical issues (eating, exercise, hygiene, etc.).
Their relationship dynamic impacts each in different ways. My concern today is hygiene, namely showering and changing clothes.
The question is what can an outsider (me) do when my mom won’t bathe properly, and my dad won’t persuade her to do so regularly?
As I see it, there are two issues here.
The first is the male – female roles from my parents’ era and my dad’s extreme discomfort (and/or pride?) in handling this. She doesn’t want help bathing and he doesn’t want to be the one helping her.
The second is her emotional reaction to things she doesn’t want to do. She acts like a five-year-old and throws a fit.
Today we got a good look at things and “forced” her to shower.
Thankfully, my wife and daughter were available to help with this. But I was the one who had to persuade her to do it, which is where the crying and resistance came in. I am having my own issues processing this.
Third party assistance doesn’t appear to be an option because my mom won’t cooperate — that is, my dad had invited an aide to help my mom bathe, and she told him never again.
Not even sure what I am after here telling you all this. Tough day and needed to vent a bit. Another good TCV question/topic, dealing with anger (as a caregiver or family member) in such situations. That is, I am pissed off at my mom for being difficult, and po’d at my dad for letting it get to this point (again).
Dealing with them in a calm and loving fashion is a challenge. I actually thought of your advice, treat them as I would want to be treated. That is ultimately how the afternoon went. The discussion with [my wife] on the way home is where my own emotions came back into play.
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