Sylvia’s response to last week’s blog: “Resilient Personalities made me think... when a loved one dies, like a husband, I can see how the surviving spouse often looks to fill the holes left by the dominant personality type in others, but might not necessarily express they are doing this or probably are not even consciously aware they are. I can see how this causes tension.
“I am thinking specifically of my grandmother in this instance. My grandfather did a lot for my grandmother, and filled in a lot of gaps for her. He has been gone 12 years now and she has learned a lot in his absence, becoming more self-reliant, but only in the ways that are enjoyable for her. For the things she doesn't wish to do, that grandpa always did, she relies on others - namely my mother.
“My mom becomes resentful at times for having to be that person, because it might not necessarily suit her to be depended on all the time. Neither expresses their intent, feelings or frustrations, and anger and resentment ensue. Does that make sense?”
” I wonder if being aware that this is a gap when a loved one dies is something to consider and account for by the other family members and friends-how to help this person navigate a new paradigm? “
Sylvia points out an intriguing hidden-source problem emanating from over use of dominant preferences. What a timely subject for all of us adjusting to Covid as well as the normal dealings with grandparents, kids, teens, even ourselves. Many adult children and caregivers contend with tensions as they care for seniors at home or in an assisted living. The concerns also puzzle parents in guiding children who are hesitant about performing chores outside their comfort area or trying new challenges opposite to their dominant preferences, as well as adults who struggle with reluctance regarding responsibilities they dislike.
Grandparents, parents and all of us have many times done jobs we didn’t enjoy. Who likes changing a dirty diaper or cleaning up vomit at 3 am, sweeping a garage, emptying trash, cleaning a car, stapling, papers or paying bills.? Or putting a meal together when we’d rather read a book or running a taxi and a million other requests from kids. Teachers violate their dominant preferences all through the day to teach and corral students. Or who likes to dust? Yeah, I know some people who really do. I delay that task as long as I can. Even though I struggle to get started I know full well that once I begin, motivation kicks in and I’ll finish. The point is we can’t always do only those things we enjoy.
Let’s face it, some people prefer being dependent and helpless just to avoid performing a certain task, as Sylvia projects. Think about jobs you dislike because they do not fall in your favored preference. With Jim’s absence, I’m rolling up water hoses which he always did because he liked the way he did it. He also was quick to do any job that required more strength. But I’m learning to do those hands-on jobs for which I used to call for his help, and receive a satisfaction-bonus.
We taught our children to make their bed, put toys away and assist with simple household tasks for which they received much approval and personal gratification. Children deserve encouragement to learn to enjoy what they are not inclined to attempt on their own. To get started, children or grandmas may just want company while they pick up toys, or be in their bedroom while they make their bed or hang up their clothes. I learned over 60 years ago not to do anything for a child that they can do for themselves. My motto is do not deprive anyone from learning to do what promises to build confidence and character.
Sylvia’s grandma, in replacing her absent husband with her daughter has created unhealthy co-dependency. Seniors who are physically and mentally able to do tasks but refuse because they do not enjoy them, parallels a child who wants to play but not be responsible for putting balls and bikes away. Before grandma’s resentment destroys their relationship, the family needs to navigate a new paradigm, as Sylvia proposed. Being kindly honest is the best approach. Speaking the truth in love, beginning with a non-offensive I statement, “Mom, I have been thinking about your wanting me to help with your laundry when everything is on one floor and nothing is too heavy for you to lift. As long as you are physically able, I’d like for you to take care of it.” Perhaps a family member, not your mom, could be present when Grandma begins her new responsibility. A positive outcome awaits all.
Expecting grandma (or anyone) to do what she’s physically able to do even though she may not enjoy rolling her socks together, folding towels or doing laundry is actually a very kind gesture. If daughter infers that she’s too busy to jump at grandma’s every whim, expect an angry backlash.
Deliberately doing what you do not particularly enjoy resembles exercising—walking, stretching lifting weights, biking, etc. It’s eating foods that are good for you rather than the easy cereal, cookies and ice cream cuisine. Achieving competency, whether 8 years or mid-80’s turns into enjoyment and legitimate pride. If someone—maybe you or me-- is not naturally flexible or dislikes repetition, we do ourselves a favor to inject intentional disciplines.
Gary Small, author of many books on how to take care of our brains (Director, UCLA Longevity Center) teaches that brains aren’t designed to die, but need stimulation just like plants need water and nutrients. When we cease adding and subtracting and rely on the calculator, it’s easy to forget how to do simple math. Short cuts often deprive our brains of the stimulation they need to stay sharp. How long has it been since you attempted to memorize a song, name or phone number? Memorizing, remembering, seems to be the greatest challenges for seniors, but maybe you see it coming. Encourage your elderly parents/loved ones to do what they can until they can’t. Many people do not appreciate how desperately critical purpose/accomplishments are.
Atul Gawande, writes in Being Mortal, the importance of seniors continuing their passions in the last years. Seniors being safe and well fed but lacking mental challenges just wither and die. That’s why birds and plants are brought into assisted living homes to inspire residents to enjoy and be responsible, thus creating a sense of satisfaction. An excellent book to own and give.
Accessing less preferred preferences tends to stimulate our brains more because the effort forces us to think, study and remember which leads to a more balanced, expanded competence along with being more independent.
“Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else.” NIV. This is healthy pride. Galatians 6:4
The more we determine to attempt tasks that are out of our comfort area, not especially easy or perhaps boring, the more we will be impressed with how God designed our complicated and resilient personalities for our own good. We are all far more capable than we ever dreamed. In the three months that Jim has been gone, I have been forced to assume many hands-on chores and head-logic decisions that have improved my confidence/competence level.
“Whatever your hand finds to so, do it with all your might…” Ecc 9:10 (NIV)
Read Proverbs chapter 3 for hints on wisdom.
A challenge: Try to memorize the following wisdom verse:
“But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.” James 3:17-18 (NIV)