By Esther Mann, LCSW
I am an 83-year-old fan of your column. I read it religiously, as I do many other columns, books, magazines, etc. Though I am no youngster, thank G-d my mind is sharp and I consider myself young at heart and in my way of thinking.
I am grateful to have, as they say, “all my marbles.” Unfortunately, my body isn’t as youthful as my mind. Over the past few years, I’ve developed many different sources of pain, and sometimes I think there isn’t an inch of me that doesn’t cause me to cringe at least once a day. The pain is often excruciating, and standing up becomes a major ordeal for me. It takes tremendous effort and can wipe me out.
It’s not easy and, because of all my pain, my activities are limited. Though I am grateful to still be driving, I can’t do as much in a day as I would like to. The physical pain of putting pressure on my legs is sometimes unbearable, and so I choose to stay in for most of the day, keeping my legs up so that I can limit my painful suffering at least a little bit.
I go to many, many doctors and physical therapists, have had every type of test, tried every possible painkiller and injection, but nothing seems to work. More than anything, I would like to feel better and be more active.
I never complain, despite how difficult this is for me. I always try to sound cheery over the phone, whenever anyone calls me, including my children. I don’t want to sound like a kvetch and I also don’t want anyone to worry about me.
I try to stay fulfilled by keeping up with lots of people by phone and by reading and watching TV. I’m not complaining. Things could be a lot worse.
But the reason I’m writing in is that I don’t know how to handle two of my children, who I know care about me deeply. They are constantly trying to convince me to get out and do more. I’m constantly hearing from them, “If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.” I’m sure they are correct, but I think I lost it already! Though I haven’t given up and will continue to go to doctors in the hope that something new can be found to alleviate my pain, the fact of the matter is that the only time I am not in excruciating pain is when I’m sitting in my comfortable recliner chair with my legs up, not putting pressure on them.
My son and daughter don’t seem to understand this. They call me almost daily, telling me about things that are going on in the neighborhood that I should be taking advantage of. Whether it’s a program at the JCC or a class somewhere, they always have a plan for me. It sounds interesting and I’m grateful for their concern, but they just can’t seem to accept the fact that, plain and simple, it hurts too much!
I often feel as though they are badgering me. They don’t want to take no for an answer and actually make me feel guilty for staying home! They seem to forget that I was once an active woman, involved and busy with all sorts of things. Now they make me feel like a lazy good-for-nothing. That’s not what they say, but it’s how they make me feel.
How can I get them to back off? To accept my limitations and be grateful that I’m not complaining to them or anyone about my limitations? That I’m doing the best that I can?
Again, I don’t want to sound ungrateful for their concern. I’m sure there are many mothers who would like to be in my shoes in terms of having children that care so much about them. But often their caring becomes a burden for me.
A Senior Reader
Dear Senior Reader,
You sound like such an amazing woman and truly an inspiration for one and all. You’ve captured in your behavior and attitude qualities that we should all aspire to. You possess gratitude, intelligence, an ability to adapt to certain hardships, and yet you don’t complain. What a wonderful combination of attributes.
So let’s try to first understand what might be going on here with your children. First off, because you are such a brave woman, rarely if ever complaining, I’m wondering if your children understand to what degree you feel incapacitated. Perhaps they just believe (or want to believe) that you have some pain but that you don’t necessarily have to give in to the pain, and they would like to see you more active and fulfilled. If that’s the case, clearly they don’t truly understand the nature of your pain and how overwhelming it usually is. What they also don’t seem to understand, based on what you wrote, is that you are not unhappy staying home so much of the time, since you are still connected to people through your phone calls. One doesn’t necessarily need a “face-to-face” to feel connected. There are many ways to “visit” with friends and loved ones. Your reading, watching the news, movies, etc., are also interesting and fun ways to spend time. Not everyone has to run around to have a meaningful day. You’ve learned how to adapt as you try to make the best of things, but your children don’t quite get it.
It’s also possible that your children are having a hard time seeing you age. No doubt they adore you and want to believe you’ll stay young and vibrant forever. They hear your voice and enjoy their stimulating conversations with you and can easily allow themselves to believe that you are still middle aged and raring to go! Hearing that you are unable to get out negates what they want to believe about you. It may be hard and scary for them to transition their view of you.
Sometimes it’s just a matter of people, like your son and daughter, having their own agenda and being unable to see past their own ideas of what is best for you; as a result, they are unable to truly “hear” what you are trying to tell them.
Finally, sometimes grown children look toward their parents and imagine what they will be like in 20 or 30 years. Sometimes they are frightened by what they see and don’t want to believe that someday they too may be unable to get around and live an active life. This can cause a certain degree of denial about their own possible future and your reality.
Whatever the reason or reasons, I think that we can agree that while their intentions no doubt come from a loving place, they nevertheless feel abrasive to you. All you can really do is stick to your story, perhaps in a more forceful manner, and not allow them to make you feel as though you aren’t making the best choices for yourself and doing the best that you can do. You sound like you know exactly what you need to be doing to take care of yourself, so don’t allow anyone to make you feel as though you aren’t perfectly capable of structuring your day in the best way possible, considering your present strengths and weaknesses.
When children are not capable of empathizing with their parents—not because they don’t want to but because they can’t, due to their own issues—it’s sometimes best to remember where their “know-it-all” attitude comes from, feel the love, and just take it all in stride.
As far as I can see, you’re doing a great job!
Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Lawrence. Esther works with individuals and couples. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 516-314-2295.