When Mike and I first talked about moving in with my mom after her stroke, my sister in law gave us some advice.
“Talk to a counselor. You need to make sure all of you understand boundaries.”
At the time, I thought she was making something out of nothing. I could handle Mom and her possible encroachment into our lives and space.
What I didn’t know was I was the one who would be crashing through Mom’s boundaries, some of which I didn’t know existed.
I hate clutter. My surfaces are clean and clear of extra stuff. Not so with Mom. Her kitchen counters had every gadget ever made, out in plain view. I rearranged a few things to make room for some of my own kitchen necessities. Mom didn’t like that.
“Stop moving my things. I need to know where everything is.”
Okay, then. No moving of stuff. Got it.
I like ice tea. I keep a pitcher of tea in the fridge year-round. The only available space in the fridge is on the top shelf. I scooted some of Mom’s bottles and jars over to make room for the tea pitcher.
“Don’t move stuff in the fridge. I need to be able to reach my creamer and smoothie, without having to look for it.”
Another boundary. Got it. No moving stuff in the fridge.
A regular conversation would go like this:
Mom: Where did you put my ( fill in the blank)
Me: It’s in the (fill in blank)
Mom: I like it in the (fill in blank). Leave it there.
Right. Don’t move a thing and we’ll get along just fine. Until…I threw away a jar. Oh, my goodness. You’d have thought the end of the world was imminent. Mom had a personal relationship with every jar and plastic container in her possession. It was like I’d thrown away one of her babies.
“Stop throwing away my things!” I can still hear her anger ringing in my clueless ears.
Who would have thought two people could be so different? They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, but this apple must have been grown on a pear tree, for as different as we are.
I like clean surfaces, Mom loves stuff.
I am a minimalist, Mom never gets rid of anything. “You never know when you might need that.”
Really, Mom? Fifty pairs of pants?
I am free-flowing, Mom is on a tight schedule.
Looking back, I can see that a conversation with a counselor who specializes in multi-generational shared housing might have been a good idea. For me.
As I recall other situations, I can see I have no clear sense of others’ boundaries. Not that I’m malicious. Just ignorant. I’m a morning person, and my friend is not. I find nothing wrong with sending a text at 6:00 am. She, however, is adamant that she not be pinged until after 8:30, unless someone is at death’s door. I thought she was kidding. Until I ignored the boundary one too many times. She threatened to block me. Or send me a hundred texts after midnight. Oops.
Reevaluating my need to have things my way has been a growing process. I’m learning that I need to respect others’ boundaries, including my mother’s.
Are you aware of your own boundaries, and others’? How has it impacted how you relate to your aging loved one?
Jane S. Daly is the author of two books, Because of Grace (2015) and The Caregiving Season (2016). She is also the treasurer of Inspire Christian Writers and West Coast Christian Writers.
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