Posts Tagged ‘maya angelou’

Caregiving means in many ways that we’ve come home.

Whether our parent  (or a spouse) lives with us, or us with them, or even if they’re in a care facility–they’re back in your life–big time.

Just when you gained your independence, figured out who you were, escaped that incredible gravitational pull to be the child they always expected you’d be you find yourself trying to keep that “adult” you intact. You’re confident, relaxed and not threatened around others, and you want to give–your heart and your hands openly–but you can’t. 

You’re 40, 50 years old and yet you have found yourself right back in that concentric ring. No matter how educated or traveled you are, or how long it’s been since you left your parent’s home you feel four or fourteen and wonder how you collapse under their words when you can be so strong, so accomplished in other relationships and areas of your life..

There’s a fine line between a person who tends to be bossy, has lots of opinions and an overbearing person. 

A person who is overbearing demands that life be on their terms–just about all the time.

An overbearing person uses “tactics” to get you to do what you wouldn’t otherwise choose to do–guilt, manipulation, and belittling words are used too often. You have little say, even about the smallest things.

An overbearing person makes you feel small and doesn’t take in account your needs, much less your dreams.

We’re all like that from time to time, but we strive to be considerate of others. Overbearing people truly believe that their needs are more important.

We never outgrow our need for parental approval.

Even if you’re that black sheep of the family you can’t escape the parental pull. Rebellion is just an acknowledgement of how very powerful our parents are in our life in the first place.

But if you’re caregiving, doesn’t that mean that you’re the one who needs to make the decisions?

Yes, and no. Dad needs you. Mom asked for your help. You took that as a sign that they’d be somewhat agreeable.


Being overbearing can be  a familiar and satisfying pattern.

Let’s face it. We bought into it and gave them what they wanted–so why wouldn’t they try it again?

Hey, part of me get this. I’m a parent, and I sometimes pine for the days when my young children adored me, wanted to be with me, and like my ideas. They thought I was so cool when I made tents in the living room out of blankets and sheets. They loved our face painting, mud pie, sand castle summers. And yes, I miss that (terribly). It feels good to be in charge–for others to trust you, respect you, think you actually know a thing or two. Who wouldn’t want to try to recapture those feelings? 

Many of our elders long for family togetherness, for things to be as they were decades before. They can’t emotionally adapt to the fact that they’re not  in charge, making the calls, and that others aren’t “hopping to it.”  Their brains conjure not only memories of their days of glory, but also the emotions..But being overbearing is a lot more than normal childhood parenting. Even as a parent your child has a right to their personhood.

Did you know that Alzheimer’s patients who can’t remember anyone’s name or even what to call that thing you grab and stab into food  can remember “social appropriate language?” 

That’s why mom, who can’t utter a sentence, can still say “hello,” “how are you? I’m fine,” and “come back to see me.” Those words, those familar patterns are so deeply ingrained that the brain almost bypasses thinking and the mouth just says them, like a rubber mallot hitting a knee. Maybe our parent’s (or spouses) overbearing-ness is like that. It’s on auto-pilot. 

 Maybe it’s fear. That last thing they can control. Their fingers clutching at the last vestige of life–you doing what they say. Most children of overbearing elder parents will tell you that their parent was pretty much always like this, which leads me to belive it’s in part, psychological. Maybe things have gotten worse, but I tend to believe that’s because they don’t have the inhibitions to control their “socialization skills.” I eventhink it’s akin to OCD–obsessive-compulsive disorder. Our shark brains circle around a vulnerable prey.

Again, I can relate. I’m almost 50 and I’m starting to have trouble holding it in. I’m thinking about giving myself a cut off date and then letting it rip. Being nice is a lot of  work! There’s a few foul-mouthed, lazy cashiers I’d like to tell, “Honey, stop cursing, popping your gum, doing a half-assed job and treat customers with a modicum of kindness and respect!” See? I told you I’m on the edge…

My dad took care of the household maintenance for a mother and daughter who lived down the street from us. They both looked ancient to me. One day, the mother said to my dad, “My daughter is so rebellious–she won’t do a thing I say!” Daddy then told me that the mother was 105 years old and her daugher was 85! See? It sounds like something a mother of a 15 year old would say. She’s probably been saying that line for 70 years.

What happens when that overbearing parent (or spouse) gets to you?Crosses the line?

What happens when their stubborness gets in the way of good caregiving?

How do you deal with such an engrained way of thinking, talking, and treating people?

First, by recognizing it for what it is–(at least a big part of it) a bad habit. And maybe with some careful thought and observation you can begin to understand what need they’re trying to fill.

All habits and addictions come from the same place–trying to fill a hole.

Some psychiatrists and other scientists would even go so far as to say that much of an addictive impulse is chemical. There’s been some research and speculation that  addicts have a deficiency or serotonin in their brains and that their addictive behavior stimulates serotoniin. When they do cocaine or gamble, their brain, or the drug they’re using creates serotonin or a comparable substance that then balances the brain. Add that to a familiar habit and you’ve got yourself a nice little vicious cycle.

Keys to Dealing With an Overberaing Parent:

  • Give up trying to make them happy. Do what’s right.  Let them be mad. If they’re falling all the time and need home help, then get them help.
  • Learn to tune out the griping. Put on headphones if you have to.
  • Give yourself some emotional distance. Love is a verb, and if you’re caregiving and making sure they’re safe, fed, and getting their proper medication, then that is love, and that may be all you can give them.
  • Realize you can’tmake them happy. Perhaps no one can, but it’s certainly not within your power. Every one of us are 100% responsible for ourselves.
  • You don’t have to take downright emotional abuse. Warn them this will not continue. In the words of Maya Angelou, “We teach people  how to treat us.” Walk out of the room. Say “STOP” in a firm voice.
  • If you haven’t ever stood up to your parent, and it’s for a good reason–to stop abuse, to get them the help they need, then maybe it’s time to stand your ground. Maybe that’s why caregiving came into your life–so you can find your “voice.”
  • Start with one area that really matters, or is really bugging you. Set new boundaries. Stick to your boudary. Just like a teenager, if they see a chink in the armor, they’ll use it against you. Keeping your word is important–for you and them.
  • Be cautious not to let the pendulum swing too far in the other direction. If you feel as if you can’t control your temper, then leave the room or call and ask for help. No one will judge you. Asking for help is a sign of maturity and caregiving can be very, very hard at times.
  • Don’t expect too much change in them–but do expect a big change in you. You can feel empowered, that you have love to give,that your decisions are good ones, that you deserve to be talked to with kindness–all of this has to first come from you.–others will treat you in the same way you treat yourself.
  • Get a sense of humor! Nothing throws off a bully as much as when they realize the rest of the world doesn’t take them too serious.
  • Understand that this probably emanates from how they were treated as a child or even in their marriage (and many people just have the kindof personaity that’s prone to be this way). Once you recognize this, it’s a lot like looking behind the curtain as the Wizard of Oz. It’s just a little old man with a megaphone. He too, wants to get home to Kansas. 
  • Don’t talk so much. Decide what’s best to do and do it. Don’t give them more ammunition to argue with–some things aren’t up for debate. Seek guidance and friendship elsewhere.
  • Break the family tradition. If you grew up in a house with a truly overbearing parent, I hope you have (or will) seek counseling–(books, a pastor, counselor, or therapist). By seeking help and creating new patterns, we can heal some  of those old wounds, accept what can’t be changes, find peace–and create our own families with better communication and problem solving skills. You don’t have to repeat the past–or try to be its polar opposite.

A Chinese Proverb says,
“Those who bend over backward trying to please another may eventually lose their balance.”

Caregiving gives us the opportunity to show how much we love.

Sometimes when caring for an overbearing person we have to muster up our inner strength and draw new boundaries. 

Caregiving revealed things in myself and my relationships I had denied. 

I learned  that love (and caregiving) sometimes meant I had to deal with a few things–head on.  

~Carol D. O’Dell

Author, Mothering Mother

Family Advisor at Caring.com

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Last night, the television show Boston Legal had one profound moment relating to Alzheimer’s.  

The premise is that one of their leading characters, Denny Crane (played by William Shatner) has early Alzheimer’s. He’s a brilliant attorney who has never lost a case–and he’s part owner in firm. The other law partners are hesitant for Denny to continue to litigate. Not only is he forgetful, he sometimes does or says bizarre things. Things Alzheimer’s patients might say or do.

Great scenario because I happen to know a great law professor from Yale who lives in my community who now has Alzheimer’s. You can be homeless and live under a bridge–and have Alzheimer’s, AIDS, or cancer–or you can be the president of the United States.

At one point, Alan, Denny’s best friend is having a conversation with Jerry, another lawyer in the firm, (who suffers from Asperger’s syndrome) about what a phenomenal job Denny did in court. Jerry blurts out, “Too bad Denny’s dying from Alzheimer’s.”

Alan is shocked. Insulted. He retorts:

“Denny’s not dying from Alzheimer’s. He’s living with it.”

There’s a great distinction here.

One of the drawbacks to early diagnosis is giving up too soon.

Early detection should mean that you receive proper medication, spend time with your loved ones, and make plans to live–not die.

In the case of Alzheimer’s, the average patient lives 8-10 years, and even longer depending on the age you contract this disease. Parkinson’s, ALS, MS, and other diseases can even offer a longer lifespan. Coincidentally, the average caregiver spend 4.3 years caregiving–leaving a bit of a discrepancy here.

The message is: don’t give up too soon.

Don’t hear a diagnosis and go home, draw the curtains, curl up in a fetal position and wither away.

As a family member or caregiver, it’s a blow to hear that your loved one has a terminal illness, but you still have to get up and face each day.

Michael J. Fox says that Parkinson’s is “the disease that keeps on taking.” He’s chosen to live with his disease. He’s chosen to do this for the millions who look to him and rely on him to raise money for research, for the difference he’s already made, but I’m sure he does this even more for his wife and his children.

A recent example is Ted Kennedy’s diagnosis of a malignant brain tumor. He had a seizure and went into the hospital just last weekend. Yet today, he and his wife, Vicki went sailing. He loves sailing and the Boston Globe said he “finds renewal on the water.”

Ted Kennedy is actually teaching his family and others how to treat him. The Chicago Tribune wrote, “Kennedy’s cancer is dire, not hopeless.”

It’s proven that prayers and good thoughts can impact people’s lives clear across the country–and we can create the atmosphere and attitude around us by how we handle our own bad news.

Maya Angelou says, “We teach people how to treat us.”

Yes, it’s natural to feel kicked in the gut.

It’s natural to take to the bed, cry, get angry, lash out or pull in. Don’t beat yourself up for going through this very natural stage.

But after that, it’s time to move on.

You (or your loved one) most likely won’t die tomorrow. Or the next day.

So you take your meds, maybe get physical or occupational therapy. Change things around in your home, hire a home health aide, buy a walker or scooter or whatever else you need. Life is different. I don’t doubt that. But life can still be good.

You can still find joy–and purpose.

Sometimes our purpose is nestled in our situation. Sometimes something–or someone arises in our midst and a window opens where a door shut.

Yet, there will come a time–hopefully in the distant future when the tide turns again.

You, or your loved one may die from this disease, I can’t promise you won’t. 

If not, from something else.

We have to eventually accept that as well. Another transition. Another acceptance. Another change.

But until then, live, live, live, live, live.

~Carol D. O’Dell

Check out her book, a day-to-day, intimate and honest look at caregiving…

Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir

available on Amazon


Family Advisor at www.Caring.com

Syndicated blog at www.OpentoHope.com



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