We asked daughterhood readers recently about the most stressful part of caregiving. Many responded that their biggest struggle is conflict with their parents. When their mother or father disagrees with or ignores safety or health-related directions. Things like not staying off the ladder to refusing to see a doctor.
It’s so hard to sit by and watch when our parents seem to need help but refuse to get it. We feel the full weight of responsibility for what happens to them but, at the same time, we have no control over their choices.
But we try. Women especially are taught that if they just try harder, get smarter, skinnier, dress better and be nicer, they’ll be okay. So it makes sense that this do-more mentality pervades our caregiving too. But this is a mean trap. We are — maybe not entirely consciously — judging our self-worth by whether we can stay in the ring without getting taken out by the realities of aging: mortality, frailty, disease and an upside down, seriously messed up healthcare system. Realities we shouldn’t even pretend to be able to influence.
And while I really like to give you concrete solutions to every problem, there’s really only one solution to this dilemma. As strange as it sounds, our best move is to try less hard to control the outcome.
We need to let go of the outcome.
So much of our misery is caused by our attachment to outcomes. And, of course, the outcome we most especially want is for our parents to be safe, happy and spared the indignities of growing old or being sick.
But the problem is that our parents don’t always make decisions that produce that outcome. The consequences of our parents’ decisions can create problems and suffering for them and more work and challenges for us.
This happens to nearly every caregiver in some way or another – no matter who she is. Maria Shriver talks about how her mother rejected every home care aide she hired to help her….and, how frustrating it was.
It took a lot of contemplation and prayer for her to let go of taking responsibility for the outcome, for getting her mother to accept help. She was eventually able to let go of trying to persuade her mother to accept an aide and relate to her mother’s experience of being unable to care for herself. And, that relating (the result of letting go) made all the difference.
What these and other stories have taught me is that there are two key mindsets essential to successfully “letting go.” One is to understand that, no matter what, we’re always going to be able to handle whatever comes along, particularly if we remember that, at that moment, at any moment, we are actually okay. For me, this isn’t a one day at a time approach – it’s one micro-minute at a time approach.
I remember one of the first yoga classes I took. As I was staring at the mat in a downward-facing dog, my mind traveling all around searching for a solution to some new problem, the instructor said, “Notice that right now, in just this moment, everything is fine.” I think that was the first time I even realized that you can take a break from worrying about the future.
You too need to take these breaks. Realize you are fine in just this one moment and then move to the next.
The other strategy to cultivate is the ability to forget yourself. What I mean here is to recognize that we’re always evaluating outcomes based on how they’ll make us feel. It’s only human to make everything very personal without realizing it.
When I’m at my neurotic worst, my friend Carol always reminds me that I’m not that important. That the universe doesn’t revolve around me. It sounds harsh but I’m always SO grateful to her. My response is to feel so relieved. It’s always much more peaceful to understand that it’s not about me. Phew.
At the end of the day, we’re all just doing the best we can. Just because the outcome isn’t what you want doesn’t mean you aren’t good enough. It’s only proof that you’re navigating an incredibly challenging situation that’s out of your control. You can’t fix this. The consequences are theirs not yours. Just try and focus on letting go. Make that your daily practice and know that, no matter what, you and your parents are going to be okay.