Posted on Wednesday, September 2nd, 2015 at 4:23 am.
The situation you are describing is similar to other situations I hear about in my counseling practice with older adults. These kinds of dynamics occur in some (but certainly not all!) families and play out in several variations on this theme.
Motives for the controlling behavior on the part of adult children are not the same for everyone. Most frequently, there is an underlying theme of genuinely wanting their adult parent to be safe and properly cared for, but in some cases the motive arises from parent-child relationship issues from long ago that have never been addressed. Unresolved anger and hurt residing in the adult child and shared with their spouse can lead to a distorted portrayal of the parent. And, let’s face it, some elderly parents can also be difficult, controlling, and have unresolved issues with their adult children. The road often goes two ways.
Regardless of the origin of the difficulties, older parents and adult children are both responsible for trying to communicate and create a healthier dynamic in the relationship. However, sometimes the dynamics of the relationship are so entrenched that they cannot be successfully altered without outside help from a counselor or geriatric professional.
In your situation, the perception of diminished capacity is inaccurate and sounds like a pretext for control and the expression of anger. You do not have to put up with this type of treatment. The son-in-law’s frequent expressions of rage and both adult children’s consistent criticism and devaluing statements cross the line into verbal and emotional abuse and this situation calls for intervention if you cannot work it out with them by yourself.
While any single comment or fight or act of control would not be likely to be considered abuse, an ongoing pattern of such behavior would fit the definition. If you are capable and pretty independent, you can make choices as to how much time you wish to spend with the family and how much information you wish to disclose to them. It is important to protect your autonomy unless or until you truly need help. For older adults who are not capable of managing all of their own affairs it is important to line up assistance, but this may need to come from people and agencies other than family. In either case, drawing clear boundaries around acceptable behavior and treatment of one another is absolutely essential.
It is important for you to establish new norms at this stage of the relationship with your adult children; otherwise this behavior is likely to persist and worsen over time. If you need help with the situation, I strongly suggest you consider short-term counseling to get support and brainstorm strategies for dealing with the family situation. Help may also be available through the Area Agency on Aging, Human Services agencies that deal with elder abuse, and the numerous programs for seniors available in this area. Fortunately, we are rich in resources here in Northern Colorado. I wish you the best and encourage you to empower yourself and do whatever is needed to limit or reverse the damage that is occurring to you and to your family relationships. There is a lot that can be done. You need not feel hopeless.
Posted on Tuesday, September 1st, 2015 at 4:19 am.
Dr. Beth, I am a 76 year old woman who feels “76 years young”. After my husband passed away 5 years ago, I moved across the country to be near my adult daughter and son-in-law and their young children. Since moving to Colorado, my daughter and son-in-law have become more and more controlling of my life and decisions. I have no major health problems and no cognitive deficits. I have friends and I volunteer in 2 community programs for children and teens. I am perfectly capable of handling my own life. But my daughter and son-in-law consistently belittle me, tell me I am incapable of doing things without their help and tell me that I need to move in with them because I can’t live on my own. In addition, my son-in-law frequently goes into rages and yells at me for not accepting their help. The situation is making me depressed and causing me to doubt myself in ways I have never doubted myself before. What do I do?
Posted on Friday, August 28th, 2015 at 12:21 am.
This is definitely a tough and very emotional situation. If you have a loving and supportive partner, it’s a lot easier but still not easy. There is not a lot you can do to change how his girls feel about you, other than to be consistent and kind in your way of relating to them. Over time, this may make a difference as they get older, mature, and understand more about life.
In the best of all worlds, the division would be fair and equal and all parties would have an equal voice about what happens during the holidays. It sounds like this is not the best of all worlds, so you will need to adjust your expectations accordingly. I heard a wise saying once: You can choose to be right or you can choose to be happy. While there are certainly times when it is both necessary and appropriate to take a stand on an issue, in this situation you may best be served by putting the larger good of the family ahead of your individual preferences.
While it’s not easy to give up your attachment to a certain tradition–for example, having a special dinner on Christmas Eve with the whole family– that is actually only one of several possible ways to celebrate the holidays. The most successful overall solution to the problem may involve putting your ego needs second to the realities of the current relationship circumstances. Second best is not always just second best after all.
It’s certainly OK to talk about what you want with your partner, but when it comes to negotiating things with the girls’ mother, that should be his responsibility and he can take heat for whatever happens with his ex. It would probably be wise to arrange some time for the girls to hang out with just their father as well as with both of you. After all, the girls already love him and you are still a question mark in their minds. When it comes to negotiating with your own ex-partner, this is your responsibility. Your husband gets to have input, but ultimately you have to take responsibility for your choices and decisions involving your children and your ex.
The holidays are a highly charged time of the year, but you can either make them more charged or focus on the parts of the holiday season that you can make rewarding and pleasant for you and those you love. At this time of year, a combination of healthy self-esteem and healthy humility in the face of forces larger than yourself will lead you to the best possible solutions. And this year’s solutions may look very different than next year’s. Even if what emerges is not what you wanted to happen, there is still plenty of joy to be savored if you hold your needs and expectations with a loose hand and an open heart.
Posted on Thursday, August 27th, 2015 at 1:29 am.
Dear Dr. Beth, I am in a blended marriage and we each have two children. My children are a boy and girl, 12 and 10 years old. His are 2 girls, 13 and 16 years old. His children stay with us on weekends and mine live with us most of the time and spend part of the time with their father. The problem is that the holidays are coming and there always seem to be tangles and arguments about who gets what part of the holiday—which of his girls’ parents gets Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, etc. The worst part, though, is that his kids resent me and don’t really want me to be part of their holidays. They just want to be with their Dad. How do I handle this situation?
Posted on Monday, August 24th, 2015 at 3:50 am.
It sounds like you are going through some significant anxiety related to aging. You are definitely not alone in that. To state the obvious, everyone else in your life and everyone around you are also getting older and getting older at the same pace as you. We give a lot of importance to numbers, especially to numbers like our chronological age and our bank accounts. While numbers are not unimportant, neither are they all they’re cracked up to be. They are not all-determining.
Aging is a tricky thing. You have to recognize the changes that are occurring in your body, your energy, and your interests, but people often give up on activities and pleasures that they really don’t have to give up because of their stereotypes about what it means to get older. I lead a support group for older women here in Loveland and it’s amazing to see how alive and interesting and energetic these women are; most are in their 60s, 70s and 80s. To a fairly great extent you get to influence your experience of aging.
Personal choices, fortune, and circumstances influence how you age, but so do beliefs and attitudes. It’s important to become aware of your own thoughts, assumptions and beliefs about aging. We all have them. We can’t live in this culture and not absorb some of these stereotypes; and these beliefs run deeper into our subconscious minds than we realize. Most of these beliefs involve sentences that start with “I’m getting old, so I can’t…….”.
A useful exercise to combat these stereotypes in our minds is to challenge ourselves to make a list beginning with the words, “I’m getting older, so I can. . . . . .”. It’s actually not that hard once you get the hang of it. Some of my favorites are, “I’m getting older, so I don’t have to be so concerned with what other people think of me.” “I’m getting older, so I can put comfort over fashion and who really cares, anyway?” and another one, “I’m getting older, so I don’t have to run through life at a breakneck speed anymore; I can relax and enjoy the ride.”
Don’t get me wrong. Getting older is not a piece of cake. As the saying goes, “Getting old is not for sissies”. There are definitely losses and hardships along the path and eventually we all meet the end of our personal road. That’s not a welcome idea for most of us to contemplate. However, even the culture around aging is starting to change. Conventional wisdom now holds that 50 is the new 30—so is 60 the new 40? As long as you have your health, 60 can be whatever you make it—perhaps with just a couple of limitations here and there.
You might consider joining the (gasp!) senior center in your local community. There are some amazing people there as well as events and resources. Even better, you will feel like a youngster there and that’s not a bad feeling at all, especially when you’re turning 60.
Posted on Monday, August 17th, 2015 at 10:40 pm.
Dr. Beth, I am a guy who is about to turn 60 later this year and it is freaking me out. I never thought I would be this old. I had a pretty wild younger life and with all the chances I took I figured I would die before I was 40. Well, that obviously didn’t happen. Sixty sounds really old to me and I feel like something bad might happen to me anytime now. Ironically, now that I have made it this far I really don’t want to die. Help.
Posted on Thursday, August 13th, 2015 at 8:14 pm.
You are suffering from a depression that has clearly become disabling in its severity. I have dealt with many people who have experienced depression as severe as yours. This is a dangerous level of depression and you cannot afford to procrastinate any longer on getting help. Some people even experience suicidal thoughts and feelings when they are this depressed, though not everyone does. Whether you are feeling suicidal or not, getting help is imperative.
If your depression is this severe and incapacitating you have a couple of different options. First, you have to disclose your true condition and situation to someone outside yourself. This can be a friend, family member, pastor, a psychologist or psychotherapist (you can find one online or in the phone book or through a friend’s recommendation) or even call a crisis hotline that can connect you with appropriate resources. You can even have a friend or family member or neighbor take you to the Intake Department of a psychiatric hospital or the ER of a local hospital or to do an immediate assessment. In most cases, admission to a hospital is voluntary, not required, unless you are actively feeling suicidal.
You may or may not need to be admitted to a hospital to stabilize your immediate depression and start you on some medication or therapy. Don’t fool around or procrastinate on this issue. It is a serious condition and you are in a serious situation.
If you do need to go to a hospital, you will need to contact (or have the intake worker help you contact) a friend or family member that can check in on your pets. Hopefully, you have someone, even if it is a neighbor you don’t know well, to help out in a pinch. Most people are kind enough to do something for a neighbor or friend in need. Most hospitalizations are quite short these days—usually a matter of a few days—and most programs will help you find and connect with a therapist. Hopefully, you have someone, even if it is a neighbor you don’t know well, to help out with your pets in a pinch. Most people are kind enough to do something for a neighbor or friend in need.
Please know, however, that you probably will not need to go to a hospital to get help. There are both private therapists and county agencies that provide services to those in severe psychological distress. You can usually find a therapist or an agency that can get you in right away or at least quite soon, although you may have to wait for a bit for an appointment if your situation is not an emergency. If you find it too difficult to call, have a family member, friend or neighbor call a therapist or hospital for you and transport you there.
Whatever you do, please know that there is hope for improving your condition. Whatever the reason for the severity of your depression, it can be evaluated and treated, either with medicine, counseling or both. Don’t deprive yourself of the opportunity to feel better and get well. You will be so glad that you made the effort.
Posted on Tuesday, August 11th, 2015 at 8:57 pm.
Dear Dr. Beth, I know I am depressed and have been for a long time, but I’m actually too depressed to get out of bed or even make a phone call to make myself get in touch with a doctor or counselor. I can barely even get myself to write this email. I hardly eat at all or shower or do any of the normal things I used to do. I live alone and the only thing that keeps me going at all is that I love my pets and have to take care of them. What do I do?
Posted on Monday, August 10th, 2015 at 8:08 am.
You are certainly not alone in feeling lost due to struggling with a hidden disability. We think of disabilities as belonging to those born with birth defects and old people. I work with a number of people with disabilities and can say without hesitation individuals with disabilities come in all ages, shapes, sizes, and levels of ability or disability.
Many of the people I work with have disabilities which are visible, but a surprisingly large number of people have disabilities are entirely invisible to others. These can include traumatic brain injuries, chronic severe pain syndromes, MS that has not advanced to severe mobility impairment, depression and other mental illnesses, metabolic syndromes and other conditions. Having a hidden disability is a particularly difficult position to be in because many people question whether you are truly disabled or “faking it”.
In truth, it is very, very difficult to receive disability benefits. People often have to apply 2 or 3 times and sometimes retain a lawyer to advocate for their needs even when their condition is quite severe. As you know, you also have to provide a great deal of documentation of your disability from medical and/or psychological professionals and this has to be renewed and re-evaluated periodically. Even after a person is approved for Social Security Disability benefits, it is still 2 additional years before they are eligible to receive Medicare. If you have pressing medical needs, this is an exceedingly difficult period of time to try and get needed medical or psychiatric care. Clearly, the government does not want to pay unnecessarily for disability benefits that are not warranted by true need.
There are several primary issues that people with disabilities confront, whether as the result of injury or disease. This can be especially true if the disability came about during one’s adult life. Moving from a status of being able-bodied to having a significant physical or cognitive disability is a huge shock, engendering feelings of grief, sadness, anger, and sometimes resentment. There is a need to adjust to a new way of living and even to a new identity. It is easy to lose self-esteem and optimism in the wake of the onset of a serious disability.
Family support, support from friends, and participation in groups and community activities directed toward the needs of people with disabilities can be quite helpful. Often, some individual or group counseling can be of particular help, especially if the person’s grief is complicated by depression or severe anxiety which really requires professional treatment. One’s spiritual and religious beliefs can also be a source of considerable support in adjusting to a new, more limited way of living.
Since I do not know the nature of your disability it is difficult to make specific recommendations to you about what activities you might be able to successfully pursue. So much of this depends on your interests and capabilities. It sounds like full-time paid work is definitely not an option for you; if you are on social security disability there are limits on what you are allowed to earn, but this need not prevent you from doing something meaningful. You may be able to locate volunteer opportunities that are truly flexible with respect to hours and frequency and don’t require lifting or sustained periods of sitting or talking. Perhaps working as a visiting companion to small animals at the Human Society of Larimer County or organizing an activity for residents at a senior center or care facility could impart a sense of meaning and purpose to your life. Volunteer opportunities with certain types of organizations can sometimes be shaped to accommodate an interested volunteer’s limitations.
Local resources include Disabled Resource Services for Larimer County (DRS) which has offices in both Ft. Collins and Loveland. Their staff has connections to a variety of organizations and resources that you may be able to plug into for ideas and opportunities for participation in the community. It is interesting to note that this year DRS is hosting the DRS Grassroots Festival, sponsoring Colorado’s first annual Disability Pride Parade and Festival (http://www.fortnet.org/drs ). You certainly don’t have to be an activist to access or deserve these opportunities, but it’s good to know that some people are advocating for visibility, acceptance, respect and equal treatment for people with disabilities. DRS is only one of the resources in the area that you may wish to check out. Having a disability is not a choice but how you cope with the rest of your life is a choice and you almost always can find ways to have a high quality of life. I wish you the best.
Posted on Saturday, August 8th, 2015 at 6:09 pm.
Dear Dr. Beth, I have been on Disability for almost 5 years now. I have a “hidden
disability” that is not apparent and most people would not think I could be
on disability unless they know me fairly well. This has been hard to
adjust to and I am at a loss of what to do with the rest of my life. I am
in my early 50s so I still have a few years left. I am unable to do most
jobs as I am unable to stoop, bend, lift over 15 lbs, do any periods of
sitting, have voice problems, etc. Are there any type of support groups
or would you have any types of advice on what might do? Thank you.