When You Can't Listen Another Minute

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Rule #1: Speak From a Loving Place

Of course, entrenched family patterns don't change after just one or two conversations. In fact, a deeply grooved pattern is unlikely to disappear entirely, but may instead reinstate itself at times of stress. Humor can help. I learned to laugh and tease my mother whenever she complained endlessly about my Dad, who was terminally ill, and her great fear that the nursing home staff was overcharging her: "Mommy, I do believe you're getting a little obsessed here. If you mention Daddy one more time, I'm going to come right over and give you a poke!"

I also spoke to the differences between us, taking care not to criticize, blame, or try to change her. "You know, Mommy," I said to her more than a couple of times, "I think we're in very different places when it comes to Daddy's bill from the nursing home. I'm so relieved that other people are taking care of him, and that you or I don't have to do it! You wish that I'd be more concerned about money, and I wish that you'd put it out of your mind!"

If I was light and loving -- and could laugh about how differently we responded to the same situation, without trying to change or convince her -- my mother lightened up, too.

She also responded well when I took her complaints to their own extreme, rather than trying to reason them away. Once I gravely suggested that she park herself with pen and paper in Dad's room twenty-four hours a day in order to keep tabs on the nurses. Although my mother opted not to devote her entire waking hours to this effort, she saw the humor in the suggestion.

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