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 “What time do you leave for work in the morning?”

It’s 7:30 at night, and my mom has called to ask me a seemingly innocuous question.

“Usually around 8:00 or so.” My hand grips the phone, waiting for the sucker punch.

“Oh,” she says, with a sigh.

The silence lengthens. I’m determined to wait her out. My fingers drum on the counter top as I squeeze my eyes shut and inhale. I feel my mouth open as the words rush out. “Why do you want to know?”

“I made some muffins for Dr. B’s staff and I need to have them dropped off. I thought you could do it on your way to work.”

“Dr. B’s office doesn’t open until 8:30.”

“I know.”

“I have to be at work at 8:30.”

“Oh.” She’s waiting for me to say I’ll go in late. I grit my teeth. I won’t give in. I won’t give in. I won’t give in.

Mom sighs. “I guess I’ll get Dodie to do it.” Dodie is her friend and errand runner.

I exhale. I’ve dodged a bullet. I set a boundary and stuck by it.

Sometimes I wonder if the boundaries I set are my selfishness bubbling to the surface. Could I be five or ten minutes late for work? Would my world come crashing down if I did this one small favor? Maybe not, but it would be easier if this “one small favor” wasn’t repeated several times a week. I grow weary of the assaults on my time. I see it this way:  I’ve budgeted my time, and Mom is constantly trying to exceed her portion of my budget.

Conversations like these occur at regular intervals; some of them take place every day. They range from “When will you be going to the grocery store?” to “Are you busy Tuesday?” There’s an ulterior motive behind every question. Sometimes I wish for a phone call just to ask how I’m doing, or how my day was.

As an elderly person’s world shrinks, her needs often increase. She may no longer have a supportive spouse to lean on. No one is there to fix the leaky faucet, change the out-of-reach light bulb, or take out the garbage. No one is constantly nearby, ready to listen to worries and give assurance or attention. This can often lead to multiple requests lobbed at a son or daughter, who is often at a loss about how to handle the onslaught.

Feeling Manipulated as a Caregiver

In my mother’s case, instead of healthy, direct, and loving interactions, such as asking “Will you please…”, she brings her requests through the back door, and I end up feeling manipulated. She doesn’t want to be a burden so she beats around the bush, hoping I’ll respond without her having to ask. Perhaps she’s afraid of my rejection, or that I’ll become exasperated with her and her world will shrink even further.

Using manipulation is simply a way to control your world, and I have certainly employed this technique. As a child, I dropped subtle hints about upcoming events that I very much wanted to attend. Only after several days of hinting, would I come right out and ask. “What do you think about me going to Susan’s party?”

I also used reverse psychology to get my son to do something he didn’t want to do. All I had to do was tell him he wasn’t allowed. He’d immediately take the opposite stance. I learned to manipulate around his strong will.

God must chuckle over our attempts to manipulate Him. Have you ever made a pact with God?  “If You do this for me, I’ll stop doing that.” We call it a vow, or a promise, but it’s really manipulation, or trying to bargain with God.  Just read God’s response to Job if you think that God Almighty is someone we can bargain with.

No one wants to feel manipulated. Asking God to help us address these situations in a godly way is necessary to avoid long-term feelings of resentment that can ruin a relationship.

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