When You Can't Listen Another Minute

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Rule #2: Don't Rule a Subject Off Limits Forever

I never meant to forbid my mother to voice her pain or to mute her on any subject. To entirely forbid conversation about a hot issue drives it underground, which inevitably causes the other person's feelings about it to intensify. It leaves the proverbial elephant sitting in the middle of the room. And it leaves an already anxious person feeling more desperate because of being totally forbidden to voice compelling worries or complaints. While I used bantering and humor to de-intensify her anxiety-driven focus on my Dad's care, I also made it a point to move toward the very issues that brought her pain-but in a productive rather than a reactive way.

At calm times, I'd ask my mother questions to learn more about her experience. 'What was the hardest part about having Archie in the nursing home? Did you ever, feel guilty that you aren't able to care for him at home by herself?" I also made it a point to share my own problems with her, and to elicit her advice and perspective. Conversations such as these brought my mother and me closer together, rooted me deeper in my own history and identity, and allowed me to give my mother the attention and empathy she deserved.

Continued on page 4:  Rule #3: Define Your Limits


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